“I’ve decided to take a huge risk and bet on myself.”
Those were the words of Alex Morgan five days before Christmas when it was announced she had signed for UEFA Women’s Champions League holders Olympique Lyonnais, and after a stop-start opening to her career in France, she has definitively found her feet.
This week the U.S international helped her side through to the semi-finals of the UEFA competition after a hard fought and tightly contested quarter-final with German giants, Wolfsburg. The two legs were played like a basketball match, end to end with quick transition, something we are probably more used to seeing in an NWSL match.
Morgan herself admitted that the game felt “very fast,” but revealed that this wasn’t a surprise based on what she has experienced in training during her short time in France.
“In training every day, the speed is very high and the tempo is very high. Playing with players like (Dszenifer) Marozsan and Camille Abily, those are players who want to be playing one-two touch, so it’s exciting and it’s kind of expanding my style of play personally.
“I feel like I’ve learned a lot in my short time here, and I’m having a lot of fun with the players here.”
Those quotes essentially support why Morgan was keen to make this move to Lyon. Yes, the goals she’s scored have come against the likes of Rodez and Albi, amateur teams that won’t really test Morgan or her teammates. But the two legs against Wolfsburg alone, plus the physical challenge that awaits Morgan by Manchester City Women, who happen to have three of the back four that shut out the U.S. at the She Believes Cup, are exactly the challenges Morgan was seeking out.
It’s not just in the attacking areas that Morgan is sure to be challenged and develop, but her time in Lyon is seeing her tasked with defensive duties too. Anyone who watched the games with Wolfsburg will have seen Morgan on the left-side of a front three, coming close on multiple occasions to grabbing her first Champions League goal. But they will also have seen her on the edge of her own penalty area, supporting left-back Amel Majri in defense.
Wolfsburg full-back and Germany international Anna Blässe was a constant menace to Lyon on the right-hand side in both games, getting forward at any opportunity to support her attacking players. But Blässe wasn’t always able to impact the attack as much as she may have liked because Morgan was there to hustle, tackle and attempt to break up play, and she didn’t do a bad job of it either.
She admitted post-match, that it was something she was willing to do for the good of the team.
“Yeah I’m not used to that and obviously, I want to save my energy for the attack, but obviously I want to do what’s called upon me,” she said.
“If I have to defend and track back on the outside back, then that’s what I need to do, and I had a player in Blässe that wanted to go forward every opportunity she could. I needed to track her, and she needed to track me. It’s a different position to me, but I am learning and I feel for me it’s taking advantage of those chances I have on goal because they might not come as often.”
Some might argue that Morgan’s role isn’t to defend and it’s taking away her attacking threat – far from it.
Morgan had chances in both legs to score playing wide left, and but for a few inches, an effort that struck the post in the first leg would have been a deserved goal. Her work rate has been without question and has won her plenty of plaudits, but now she has some time away from the club after being selected by Jill Ellis for the upcoming friendlies against Russia.
There is little doubt that Morgan’s stint in Europe, however long it might be, will benefit the national team, exposing her to a different style and different roles and responsibilities. Importantly, she’s also training daily with a large portion of the French Women’s National Team at Lyon – 11 players were called up to their most recent squad. That can only benefit and is essentially like being in a national camp daily.
The small bits of French she is picking up is helping her communicate with her teammates, she says, and now she can look forward to a some time back in the U.S, where there is sure to be some banter with Manchester City’s Carli Lloyd, who Morgan will face on the weekend of April 22/23 and April 29/30.
“Carli signed a little bit later than I did, so I didn’t even think it could be a possibility that I could be playing a U.S teammate in the Champions League. To go and play in Manchester will be great, because I haven’t been able to do that since London 2012.”
Looking at how Morgan has performed thus far, the ‘huge risk’ she took moving to Europe, seems to be paying off.