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Alex Morgan’s injury creates problem and possibility for USWNT

Alex Morgan and the USWNT will play England at Wembley in October. (Catherine Ivill/FIFA via Getty Images)

When the U.S. women’s national team released its roster for the October friendlies against England and Spain, one notable name was nowhere to be found.

One of the USWNT’s most prolific forwards, Alex Morgan, did not feature on the 24-player roster due to a nagging knee injury, coach Vlatko Andonovski said Thursday.

Andonovski said he discussed the matter with Morgan, and the two made the decision together.

“We decided that for her health, and long-term health especially, the best thing for her would be not to travel,” Andonovski said.

Andonovski couldn’t comment on the severity of the injury, he said. But he did note that if circumstances were different – for example, if these matches weren’t friendlies – then Morgan’s name would have been on the list.

“What I can say is that if this was a World Cup final, Alex would have been on this trip and she was going to play this game, no question,” the coach said.

Instead, Morgan, who has appeared in 198 international games with 119 goals and 46 assists, will be absent. Without its starting striker, the USWNT will be down to one natural striker — Ashley Hatch — for the European swing.

Yet while her injury leaves an obvious hole in the lineup, Morgan’s absence also provides space for younger players to make their marks — including teenage sensation Alyssa Thompson, who has received her first call up at 17 years old.

Thompson most recently played for the U.S. youth national team, and she posted a goal and an assist in a U20 World Cup match against Ghana in August.

The development of young players is crucial in the games against England and Spain, Andonovski said.

“In the group of players that we have on this roster, it is obvious that it’s a very young group,” he said. “They have to experience this. I believe it is the closest that we can get to playing an actual World Cup. I’m very excited for this opportunity for the team, and I’m very excited for the young players.”

The USWNT heads to Wembley Stadium to take on England on Oct. 7, in a game that sold out in less than a day when the tickets were released in August.

Morgan has been a key piece for the USWNT for years, and her performance against England in the 2019 World Cup semifinals quickly went down in soccer history.

The U.S. won that contest 2-1, with Morgan scoring the go-ahead goal in the 31st minute of the first half. She celebrated by sipping an imaginary cup of tea – a moment that went viral.

While some took the gesture as a reference to England’s national affinity for the drink, or even as a reference to the Boston Tea Party, Morgan offered a different explanation.

“My celebration was actually more, ‘That’s the tea,’ which is telling a story, spreading news,” she told reporters at the time.

Preparation for the next World Cup, which is set to kick off in Australia in July 2023, is the priority, Andonovski said.

Still, Morgan’s need to rest her knee may also have something to do with NWSL play, as her San Diego Wave squad is gearing up for playoffs. They have already clinched a spot in the postseason as the league heads into the last weekend of regular-season play.

For NWSL players participating in the October friendlies for the USWNT, the turnaround to NWSL playoffs will be tight.

After playing England, the squad faces Spain on Oct. 11. The NWSL playoffs begin just five days later on Oct. 16.