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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.”

Who is the most essential USWNT player?

Esme Morgan Signs With Washington Spirit

Esme Morgan of England inspects the pitch prior to the UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match between England and France
The England national will join the Spirit in DC on July 15th. (Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

English defender Esme Morgan has signed with the Washington Spirit, the club announced Thursday. 

Morgan had been with WSL side Manchester City since 2017, with one year remaining on her contract. She’ll now make a move to the NWSL, with City receiving a fee for the move. 

"I wanted to join the Spirit because they have the ambition and tools to be the best team in the NWSL, and trying to achieve that will be a great but enjoyable challenge," Morgan said in a club statement.

"On an individual level too, the opportunity to work under Jonatan [Giráldez], one of the world's best coaches, is really exciting and I look forward to learning from him and pushing myself to become the best player I can be, hopefully helping the team to success."

According to ESPN, Morgan’s lack of playing time under City manager Gareth Taylor played a key role in her decision to leave the league championship runners-up. She’ll join the Spirit in Washington, DC on July 15th, but won’t be able to begin play until August. 

Spirit president Mark Krikorian called Morgan an "exceptional talent" and added that the club is "thrilled" to add her to the roster.

"I think she’s pretty talented," Giraldez told reporters on Friday. "A young player with a great future, but with experience already in a great league and with the national team. She’s been surrounded by great players and also great coaches, so she can give us experience."

Ledecky Goes for 4 at Olympic Swimming Trials

Swimmer katie ledecky swimming at Toyota US Open
Decorated swimmer Katie Ledecky is aiming to make her fourth-straight Olympic squad. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Swimming Trials begin this weekend, running from June 15th through June 23rd in Indianapolis, with Katie Ledecky eyeing her fourth-straight Summer Games.

While traditionally held in Omaha, Indiana's Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, has been fitted with a 50-meter pool to host the meet that will determine the 2024 Paris Olympics roster.

All eyes will be on seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who will be competing in the 200-meter, 400-meter, 800-meter, and 1500-meter freestyle — all events in which she’s been an Olympic champion. 

Rival Ariarne Titmus had her trials last week, breaking the world record in the 200-meter freestyle. Ledecky’s 200 is intended to qualify her for the Olympic relay. Meanwhile stateside, Katie Grimes stands to be a challenger in the 1500-meter freestyle has already qualified for the Paris Olympics in the 10km open water event.

Other competitors of note include 47-year-old Gabrielle Rose, who stands to become the oldest US Swimming Olympic qualifier in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke.

Additionally, Kate Douglass — an NCAA and World Champion — is a favorite to make her first Olympic team in the 200-meter IM and 200-meter breaststroke. Simone Manuel, an Olympic champion in the 100-meter freestyle, is also looking to make her third-straight Olympics.

Where to watch: The Trials will be streaming all week on Peacock, with later qualifying heats airing live on USA Network and event finals airing in primetime on NBC.

Orlando and Kansas City Shoot for 13 in NWSL Weekend Action

NWSL's T. Chawinga #6 of the Kansas City Current passes the ball during the first half of their game against the Utah Royals FC
The Kansas City Current hopes to extend its NWSL unbeaten streak to 13 with a win over Chicago. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

The 13th match weekend is fast approaching in the NWSL, with two season-long unbeaten streaks on the line.

League-leaders Kansas City and Orlando will attempt to survive the weekend with their unbeaten runs intact, as the Current host Chicago on Friday and the Pride travel to North Carolina for Saturday's match.

But while Kansas City and Orlando have been the gold standard this year, they're still a number of wins away from tying Washington's record for longest unbeaten streak in a single NWSL season. In 2021, the Spirit went 20 games without a loss en route to the club's first NWSL championship.

Both Gotham and Louisville are carrying momentum into their matchup on Saturday. Louisville is unbeaten in three games, and they’re looking to finally leapfrog Chicago and claim sixth place in the league standings. Gotham, on a seven-game unbeaten run, is into fifth place.

Portland and Seattle will face off in the Cascadia Clash this weekend, with Golden Boot contender Sophia Smith absent, as the decorated forward was shown a red card last weekend for time-wasting on the bench.

The Reign could use a win against their long-time rivals, as a difficult start has 13th-place Seattle registering only two wins amid nine losses so far this season.

Elsewhere in the league, 2024 expansion teams Bay FC and Utah meet for the first time this weekend, as both look to rise from the bottom half of the standings. And Washington will ride a four-game winning streak into Saturday's game against a San Diego side that's earned two hard-fought draws in recent weeks.

Watch more: "Sophia Smith is INNOCENT!" on The Late Sub with Claire Watkins

WNBA All-Star Voting Starts on June 13th

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Voting for the 2024 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game opened at 2 PM ET today and runs through June 29th.

All active WNBA players are eligible to make the All-Star Game, set for July 20th in Phoenix. Unlike previous formats that featured two voted-in All-Star squads, this year’s contest pits a single All-Star team against the already-decided Olympic-bound USA Women’s National Team.

Fans can submit a daily ballot nominating up to 10 athletes via or the WNBA App.

Fan-submitted ballots account for 50% of vote, with the other 50% split equally between current WNBA players and members of the media. The top 10 athletes will automatically make the All-Star Game, with league coaches then voting from a pool of the next 36 to complete Team WNBA’s 12-player roster. The final lineup will be announced on July 2nd.

This year's All-Star Game format presents an opportunity for fans to vote for players they might consider Olympic snubs. Indiana rookie Caitlin Clark and Dallas’s Arike Ogunbawole seem like shoo-ins given the discussion surrounding their Olympic omissions, while Connecticut stars Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner are also expected to snag All-Star nods.

And after a career-high 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in last night’s 83-75 loss to the Sun, Chicago rookie Angel Reese could also secure a spot.

Regardless, it won't necessarily be smooth sailing for Team USA, as history has tended to favor the underdog. 

The first USA vs. All-Stars matchup took place in 2021, with the league’s squad humbling the Tokyo Olympians 93-85. With 26 points, Ogunbawole was named All-Star Game MVP after barely missing the Olympic cut. Could she and Clark turn the tables on Team USA this year?

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" by Expert Adjacent

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