PHILADELPHIA – In a world of what is – and who is – next, Morgan Brian is clearly it as U.S. women’s soccer goes.
The 21-year-old midfielder was selected first overall by the Houston Dash in the 2015 NWSL College Draft on Friday, a foregone conclusion for the better part of a year. She is the best player in a senior class that could be the most impactful since 2010 and she is already a fully established senior U.S. international.
“I think for Morgan, she’s on the very front edge of what she is going to be not only for the Dash, but for this country,” said Houston coach Randy Waldrum. “She’s one of the rising superstars. As this senior women’s team starts to get older and the Carli Lloyds go out, she will be one of the next rising stars. She’s special.”
[MORE: Complete draft results for all four rounds of 2015 NWSL Draft]
Waldrum says he was more in need of a starting forward or defender, but Brian’s talent superseded the team’s positional needs.
“It’s an honor to be picked No. 1,” Brian said. “I think when you grow up as a little girl, you always dream of playing professionally in general, but in the United States I think is something every college soccer player wants to do, so it’s an honor to be picked No. 1.”
For the United States women’s national team, the question of ‘Who is next?’ reverberates. Alex Morgan very quickly went from the next big thing to saving the United States’ 2011 World Cup hopes before she graduated college. In less than two years she went from a player with potential to a record-setting year for the U.S., becoming only the second player to tally 20 goals and 20 assists in a year.
Brian is the next big thing in American soccer at a time when the U.S. needs several of them.
The Americans struggled through 2014, changing coaches, falling to No. 2 in the world rankings and dropping a couple eye-opening results. The core of the squad remains relatively unchanged, but the U.S. women’s national team is on the cusp of a generational shift as some of its best players near the end of their careers following a World Cup and possibly and Olympics.
[MORE: Spirit trade leading goal-scorer Taylor to Portland]
There’s a sizeble group of young players that remains out in the wilderness, having been influential for U.S. youth teams in past years but yet to get a crack at the senior U.S. team. As the balance shifts to the next generation, Brian will be one of the key figures for the U.S., which hasn’t won a World Cup since 1999.
Composed and confident on the ball, Brian stood out at World Cup qualifying in October, impressively jumping between the varying levels of NCAA games and playing internationally.
Brian, who turns 22 on Feb. 26, is expected to be the youngest player on the United States’ roster at this year’s World Cup. She already has 19 appearances with the senior team, which have served as learning experiences.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned is how much these girls and professionals take care of their bodies,” she said. “It’s a different level when you get here professionally.
“The mental side of things, being able to come and play your best and not taking any time to let off the pedal or the gas – I think that is something that some of these girls who are older and have more experience have gotten used to.”
Brian will play in an attacking midfield role for the Dash, although she’ll miss a large chunk of the season due to the World Cup and preparations for it. Brian also plans to finish school in the fall, both online and in person at Virginia. She is versatile enough to play in more of a holding midfield role for the United States, and she shines in both positions.
“She’s such a special talent, you can’t pass on her,” Waldrum said. “She’s such a difference maker. Even though she’s won two Hermann Trophies, I think she is on the front edge of what she is going to be 10 years from now for U.S. Soccer.”
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