This World Cup didn't end the way Alex Morgan wanted. But she'll be back.
It looked for all the world that the United States Women's National Team team would bring home our nation's third Women's World Cup soccer championship on Sunday. Not once, but twice, the United States had a one-goal lead with time running out.
Not only that, it looked like Alex Morgan was going to be the Great American Heroine for her performance in the championship game. Morgan showed off her speed in the 69th minute and scored the first goal of Sunday's Women's World Cup final against Japan. It would have been worthy of a championship-winning goal.
Alas, it was not to be. Defensive breakdowns ultimately cost Team USA the win and Japan took home the World Cup trophy.
While the defeat is a bitter pill for the United States to swallow, there is one very positive thing that American soccer fans (and Cal fans) can take out of the 2011 Women's World Cup experience. The tournament was a coming out party for the team's youngest member: Morgan, the 22 year-old Cal alumna and Diamond Bar, Calif. native, gave all of us a glimpse of what USA Women's Soccer has to look forward to for many international competitions to come.
Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach celebrate what many of us hoped would be the World Cup winning goal in extra time in Sunday's Women's World Cup final.
Don't believe me? Think I have my blue and gold glasses on when I talk about Alex Morgan? Well don't take my word for it. SB Nation New York has already taken notice of Morgan's greatness.
Over the past few games, those who watched the action saw the growth of a potential women's soccer star in 22-year-old forward Alex Morgan, the youngest member of the national team and a recipient of many Facebook/Twitter marriage proposals. Morgan came on as a second-half sub for much of the tournament, but her potential and dynamic offensive ability showed as soon as she was inserted into the lineup. Some wondered why she wasn’t deemed the starter, but the way Pia Sundhage utilized her reminded me of the way some NHL coaches slowly ease their young talent into the lineup and rotation before fully loosening the reins. In the end, whether Morgan started or not didn’t seem to have much of an impact on the overall result — U.S. was one win (or goal, depending on how you look at it) away from winning the World Cup title.
And on this day, the final against Japan, Morgan was placed into the lineup at the beginning of the second half because of an injury to Lauren Cheney and immediately showed she was a step above the competition and had a penchant for finding the back of the net. Quite frankly, she was deadly in open space, shown on the goal she scored on a long ball from Christine Rampone for the first goal of the game, and by the cross she struck to Abby Wambach to pull the U.S. ahead 2-1. One-on-one, she overmatched defenders and her speed that would’ve crated an open look at the net even caused a Japan foul.
And that is not all. Morgan's performance in Sunday's final -- she scored Team USA's first goal and beautifully assisted on Abby Wambach's header to put the USA ahead in extra time -- earned her praise from ESPN soccer analyst Jeff Carlisle, who gave Morgan the highest grade (a 9 out of 10) of the Team USA combatants in Sunday's championship final.
But it wasn't just Sunday's final that showcased Morgan's tremendous talent (though it might be what she is remembered for most out of this tournament). Morgan was Team USA Coach Pia Sundhage's weapon off the bench in all of the Americans' games in the World Cup, as Team USA sought to exploit her excellent speed, high energy, and scoring ability in the second half of games. Morgan's skill level was evident when she checked into the game. And in Team USA's semifinal win against France, Morgan finally found the net for her first World Cup goal. It was a memorable one.
Perhaps Morgan's scoring breakthrough in the semifinals and finals of the World Cup should have come as no surprise. Since becoming a member of the national team, Morgan now has nine goals in 24 games in international competition. Not only that, several of her goals have been memorable for their importance (e.g., Sunday's World Cup tally or this goal in stoppage time to defeat Italy last fall) or for their displays of Morgan's impressive athleticism (e.g., her goal against France or this goal against Iceland last March). And, after all, Morgan was the number one overall pick in the United States women's professional league draft (selected by the Western New York Flash) this past April for a reason.
After this World Cup showcased her talent, Morgan is poised to become the face of USA women's soccer by the time the next World Cup rolls around. By that time, Morgan will be only 26 years old; by comparison, this year's brightest stars of the women's national team, Abby Wambach and Hope Solo, will be 35 and 33 years old, respectively. And at risk of pointing out the obvious, she is uniquely suited to be the face of USA women's soccer because of her beauty. Morgan is beautiful, photogenic, intelligent, and a delight in postgame interviews and other interactions with the media. It is little wonder that Morgan's Facebook page exploded with marriage proposals in the 72 hours that followed Team USA's semifinal win over France.
Alex Morgan: the face of USA Women's Soccer?
All of that is probably the furthest thing from Alex Morgan's mind right now, as she and the rest of her teammates are undoubtedly still smarting from the championship game loss to Japan. But for those of us who root for Morgan and USA Soccer, it's not too early to look to the future. And Alex is the future.
Hope to see Alex and the rest of her USA teammates bring home gold at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.