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2019 Women's World Cup

Alex Morgan, one goal from 100, is a more complete forward than ever

Photo Copyright Daniela Porcelli | Joerdeli Photography

NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Alex Morgan is one tally shy of 100 international goals, a feat achieved by only six other Americans in history.

Morgan made her senior debut for the United States women’s national team on March 31, 2010, and she became an influential scorer almost immediately. Her 41 goals stand as a U.S. record for a player by the third anniversary of her first cap, a feat buoyed by an astounding 28 goals in 31 games in 2012.

Now 29 years old, Morgan continues to produce when her country needs her. She has 26 goals in her last 29 matches for the U.S., a scorching run of form which dates back to 2017. Morgan will look to score her 100th in a U.S. shirt on Saturday against world No. 4 England at Nissan Stadium. If she does, she’ll hit the century mark in her 157th cap; Mia Hamm hit the 100 mark in 156 games.

Morgan’s 99th goal came Wednesday in the United States’ 2-2 draw with Japan, one which saw the Americans blow a lead twice, including in second-half stoppage time. Morgan was aiming for 100th then for multiple reasons.

“I was hoping to get 100 in Philadelphia,” Morgan told The Equalizer postgame at Talen Energy Stadium. “This is where I got my first goal, but it didn’t happen. I’m hopeful to get it within the tournament.”

When Morgan scores her next goal, she will join an exclusive group of U.S. Soccer stars. Abby Wambach (184), Hamm (158), Kristine Lilly (130), Michelle Akers (107), Carli Lloyd (105) and Tiffeny Milbrett (100) are the only male or female players to have scored at least 100 goals for the United States to date.

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As Morgan climbs the goal-scoring charts, there is some wonder as to whether she can one day be the world’s all-time leading scorer, as Wambach once tabbed her to become. (Canada forward Christine Sinclair moved within five goals of tying Wambach’s world record with her 179th tally on Friday.) There remains that lingering question around Morgan’s haul: How many more could she have scored if injuries hadn’t taken a toll earlier in her career?

Morgan followed her historic 2012 campaign with six goals in 2013, five in 2014 and seven in 2015. All of those years saw her battle injuries — especially 2014, when she played just 418 minutes for the United States.

But Morgan has surged back into form since. She still has explosive speed to burn, and a fantastic striker’s mentality inside the box. Megan Rapinoe and Morgan have clicked up top and formed a strong chemistry, having been involved in (goal or assist) 28 goals and 31 goals, respectively, for the U.S. since 2017. The next closest player is Lindsey Horan with 16. Morgan and Rapinoe have the pace and intelligence to see a play develop before it materializes. They know where to find each other, and it’s helped the tandem succeed offensively.

So what makes Morgan so good?

“Probably her service that she gets,” Rapinoe quipped. “No, I’m kidding. She’s very difficult to deal with, obviously. She’s a very willing runner, always in and around the goal box. Clinical finisher. She’s always trying to sniff out to put herself in the best position to be in the goal box. When we get in there, we really have a good point of play as a team, and provide a lot of service for her. She’s always there, ready, and willing to be there.”

Brazil’s Marta is one of the most recognizable footballers in the game. She believes that her Orlando Pride teammate could soon overtake her as the best and most recognizable player in women’s football. Injuries aside, there’s no reason why Morgan should soon slow down.

“Yes, yes of course,” Marta explained. “Every big player like Alex, they have opportunity. I won the FIFA Best Player five times, year after year, and then I waited until eight years to win again. Things happen; just keep going and working on it.”

Most impressive about Morgan, as she prepares for her third World Cup, is what she is doing to improve her overall game. The mark of a top player is the determination to get better each and every day. Morgan is finding new ways to score, as evidenced by her in-stride chest shot for her 99th goal. And she is getting better on both sides of the ball. “She’s becoming one of the best defending forwards,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. Morgan still has another level to be reached.

“I hope there’s not a ceiling, and I think she’d probably echo that,” Ellis told reporters at her SheBelieves Cup press conference in Nashville. “You just want to see a player continue to push. You see Alex when there’s not fans in the stands. You see her when she’s out on the field by herself; you see her out at training. When you are elite at something, I think what sustains that is the attitude to want to continue to reach another level. I think that’s a common thread in elite players.

“They’re never satisfied. I think that’s a common thing with Alex. She’s always looking to get better. I know she has a new coach at Orlando, and already wants to watch film. There’s this constant desire and drive to get better. I think that’s a massive quality, there has to be fuel, and she has that. She’s on a team with players around her that can support her skill set as she can them. I think she recognizes the value that she can bring, by doing the things that she’s good at, and also helping to facilitate others in terms of both sides of the ball.”

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England, a fellow World Cup contender, next stands in the way of Morgan and the Americans, who are off to a slow start this World Cup year following a loss in France and a gritty win in Spain in January.

Lionesses veteran Lucy Bronze is widely considered to be the best right back in the world. She respects the form that Morgan is in — and she also knows the plan for trying to halt it.

“Alex Morgan’s known for her pace,” Bronze said. “I think she’s got a lot of pace in behind, a good, willing runner. I think she just works well within that team. She’s got that good connection with the rest of the players. They know she’s going to always get on the end of the ball.”

“If we can reduce the space that she has, I think that will cause her a few problems. Whether she’s on 99 goals, or two goals, it doesn’t matter to me when she scores what goals. We want to stop her and ultimately we want to keep a clean sheet.”

After conceding a late equalizer to Japan, the U.S. will want to bounce back with a win over the Lionesses. It’s a massive test for both teams ahead of the World Cup in France. England earned a 1-0 win over the U.S. at the 2017 SheBelieves Cup, so they know they are capable of beating the Americans on their home soil.

“They’re at the top of the leaderboard,” Morgan said. “All eyes are on England. They’re a good team defensively, very organized, so it’ll be a tough challenge for us.”

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