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The case for the most essential USWNT player: Alex Morgan

In her return to the USWNT, Alex Morgan has set an example for the next generation. (Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images)

Each month in the leadup to the World Cup, Just Women’s Sports will make the case for one player as most essential to the success of the U.S. women’s national team in 2023. Next up: Alex Morgan.

A staple for the U.S. women’s national team for more than a decade, Alex Morgan again should prove instrumental as the team sets its sights on a third straight World Cup.

Morgan’s career with the USWNT to this point puts her in the conversation for one of the greatest strikers of all time. But for five training camps, from October 2021 through April 2022, she was left off the roster.

The 33-year-old took her absence not as a slight but as a challenge.

She responded by putting together the best NWSL season of her career, which included winning the Golden Boot. Upon her return to the national team for World Cup qualifiers, Morgan excelled, scoring the title-winning goal in the Concacaf W Championship run.

She was named the best player in the tournament following that win. She finished as the USWNT’s leading scorer and tied for the top spot overall in the the July competition.

“She’s a winner,” USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski said of Morgan at the time. “She knows how to win big games. She knows how to perform in big games. She’s done it before. She’s won World Cups, she’s won an Olympics, she’s won big tournaments. That doesn’t come overnight.”

The pressure of the spotlight doesn’t phase Morgan, as she showed from the penalty spot. In 2022, she converted on 100% of the penalties she took for both the San Diego Wave and the USWNT. She went 8-for-8, including six for the Wave and two for the USWNT.

She also was one of just three USWNT players to be nominated for the Ballon d’Or, alongside Catarina Macario and Trinity Rodman.

An injury late in 2022 just hammered home her importance to the USWNT. She missed the squad’s October friendlies against England and Spain with a knee injury, and without her, the team stumbled in back-to-back losses.

Not to mention, Morgan knows how to show up at the World Cup. Look no further than her five-goal performance against Thailand in 2019, which matched Michelle Akers for the most goals scored by an American woman in a World Cup game.

Beyond Morgan’s play, her presence as a veteran and an advocate for her fellow players makes her instrumental not only to their success but to their well-being.

Morgan has been a central figure as the NWSL and U.S. Soccer have dealt with the fallout of coaching abuse and misconduct.

In 2019, she warned U.S. Soccer against hiring Paul Riley as the USWNT head coach, an ESPN documentary revealed in October.

Riley had been dismissed from the Portland Thorns in 2015 following allegations of sexual harassment and sexual coercion. During the 2015 season, Morgan had helped Thorns teammate Mana Shim submit her complaint about Riley to team owner Merritt Paulson.

Morgan did everything she could to keep Riley from the head coaching job for the USWNT, she said in the documentary.

“I did my part in stopping him from becoming head coach,” Morgan said. “And that was sharing as much information as I could with the people who were in charge of selecting the next head coach.

“The response by U.S. Soccer was no, they had never heard of this misconduct or harassment. Not the report that Mana submitted, not the investigation, and that this was a surprise to them.”

Morgan has since joined U.S. Soccer’s participant safety taskforce, which aims to help prevent abuse across all levels of the sport. The taskforce is chaired by Shim.

She also was one of the players that helped bring a lawsuit against U.S. Soccer as part of the USWNT’s fight for equal pay. The team achieved that goal earlier this year, settling the lawsuit and agreeing to a new CBA that guarantees equal pay.

Last Thursday, President Joe Biden signed into law the Equal Pay for Team USA Act, which ensures that all athletes who represent the U.S. on the global stage will receive equal pay. According to legislators, that would not have been accomplished without Morgan.

“I also want to thank heroes like Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, who brought that case against U.S. Soccer,” said U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), who first introduced the act in 2019 alongside fellow Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). The bill was introduced shortly after the USWNT sued for equal pay following their World Cup win.

“U.S. women’s soccer led the charge after winning the World Cup and making it clear to everyone that women athletes deserve equal pay,” Cantwell continued. “With President Biden’s signature, we’re ensuring that when you wear the Team USA logo, you will truly be equal.”

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