The United State Women’s National Soccer team were able to lift the 2018 Tournament of Nations trophy on Friday night from Chicago, Illinois (technically, Brigeview, IL).
The victory of this pre-World Cup qualifying tournament did not come easy for the USWNT. USA needed every single goal scored on Thursday night to get the goal differential tie-breaker over Australia to win this tournament (series of friendly games) that also includes Brazil and Japan.
Leading the way for USWNT in the three games of the Tournament of Nations is none other than Cal Women’s Soccer alum Alex Morgan, who along with Megan Rapinoe are the only two players to start every game in 2018. Morgan has also served as the captain for this tournament, with former captain Carli Lloyd playing as a reserve.
USA 4, Japan 2 - Alex Morgan with a hat trick
Morgan scored the first three goals for USWNT in this tournament in the first game against Japan from Kansas City, KS. Megan Rapinoe found Morgan just in front of the cage for an easy first goal. After Japan pulled even in this match, Morgan used her head for the second goal. Morgan finished her hat trick by kicking in a goal off the post from a great pass from Tobin Heath. Japan scored a late goal for the final margin.
USA 1, Australia 1
Against the Matildas of Australia from Hartford, CT, who won the 2017 version of this tournament, USA fell behind early and required a last minute equalizer from Lindsey Horan (Rapinoe with the assist) to get the much needed draw.
USA 4, Brazil 1 - Morgan with the tournament winning final goal
Brazil got ahead due to a USA own goal, but the Americans will not quit. Rose Lavelle scored the equalizer. Julie Ertz then put them ahead. Thanks to a back pass from Alex Morgan who drew a couple of defenders, Tobin Heath pulled the US even with the Australians (who defeated Japan 2-0 earlier in the day) in goal differential.
Tobin. Powell. Heath.— U.S. Soccer WNT (@ussoccer_wnt) August 3, 2018
Certified fresh pic.twitter.com/N6lXfETGuA
Needing another goal to clinch the tournament, Rapinoe fed Morgan with a perfect cross off a free kick for the last goal of the tournament for the USWNT.
The 4 goals scored by Alex Morgan in the three games made her the top scorer of the tournament. In 2018, Morgan has carried the USWNT in both the summer series of friendlies as well as this July/August Tournament of Nations. In 11 matches (all starts), Morgan has scored 10 goals to lead USWNT.
Morgan is also USWNT’s leading scorer with 7 goals in 14 matches in 2017. She did not really find her killer scoring instinct until the second half of the year (from August on).
Coming up next for USWNT, top ranked in the world again, is the 2018 CONCACAF Women’s Championship in October that will also serve as the qualifier for the 2019 World Cup in France.
We will conclude this post with some random musing about the upcoming schedule for USWNT and how it impacts our Cal alum superstar, Alex Morgan.
Is USWNT the favorites to win the 2019 Women’s World Cup?
Yes, USA is the slight favorite to repeat as World Cup winner after winning the 2015 World Cup in Canada. However, I would say that the field as a whole is the overwhelming favorite if you are a betting person.
What is wrong with USA?
Head coach Jill Ellis has struggled a bit in the past 2 years to find the right roster of players for the upcoming World Cup (France in 2019) and Olympics (Tokyo, Japan in 2020). In this ToN alone, US has issue defensively which is also somewhat tied to the controversy with the roster choice, particularly the omission of center-back Jaelene Hinkle who had previously refused a call-up because USWNT were scheduled to wear the rainbow kit in support of the LBGTQ community. Hinkle missed some valuable time training with the rest of the team and were promptly quickly cut in this ToN roster selection.
With Hope Solo retired, USWNT also has a keeper in Alyssa Naeher that lacks the big tournament experience.
2017 was a bad year for the USWNT result-wise as Ellis tried to find the right players. USA finished last in the early year SheBelieves Cup (against England, France, and Germany) and 2nd in the Tournament of Nations. The 2018 results are better as USA won both SheBelieves Cup in March and this Tournament of Nations just now, although both by slim margin.
Some people believes that Jill Ellis is not the right person to lead USWNT, but a coaching change this late in the cycle is probably more detrimental to the team.
What is right with USA?
Alex Morgan has found her early career mojo. The veteran US striker has got back to her a goal per match rate from her early career. With Carli Lloyd, who is a midfielder anyhow, taking a step back, Alex Morgan is again the front and center face of the USWNT. Morgan has also significantly improved her defense after spending an year in France playing with the Olympique Lyonnaise in 2016-17.
In addition to Alex Morgan, USWNT will also rely on Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, and Julie Ertz (formerly Johnson but she’s married to Stanford football alum Zack Ertz). USWNT also have some other great players coming up that may or may not steal some of Morgan’s thunder. Rose Lavelle and Crystal Dunn may either challenge Morgan as the US’s top scorer or disappear from the limelight like Stanford alum Christen Press or UCLA alum Sydney Leroux.
Alex Morgan’s legacy is strongly intertwined with how USWNT fare in the next two big tournaments
You may or may not remember that Morgan missed her penalty kick in the penalty kick stage of the quarterfinal knockout loss to Sweden in the 2016 Rio Olympics. While the team’s failing is not directly on her, Morgan has a lot to gain as USA tries to win both the 2019 World Cup and the 2020 Olympic Gold. If Alex can be the leading scorer for USWNT for one or both of these upcoming major tournament like what she did in this ToN, then she can be discussed amongst the women’s soccer GOAT.
With 90 goals in 145 matches, Morgan still has an outside shot to surpass Abby Wambach’s record of 184 goals in 256 matches. Morgan just needs to be lucky with not being injured.I may have forgot to mention above how Morgan left the Brazil game on Thursday after re-injuring her ankle and had to be taken off on a stretcher (most likely for precautionary reasons only).
Alex Morgan’s legacy Part 2
Morgan is the main person for bringing NWSL (women’s pro soccer league in the US) to Orlando. While Morgan has had some success in her club career, she actually has not got the chance to really lead them to the big trophies (Morgan has won WPS and NWSL titles in the US and the European Club World Cup but benefited from the great plays of her teammates). Looking at Alex Morgan’s soccer legacy at this start of the second half of her career, Morgan probably needs to carry her club to a NWSL title.
In addition to that, Morgan may need to play a role if/when NWSL finally expand to Southern California. Being a LA (Diamond Bar) native, Morgan may even eventually become the owner of a LA franchise, depending on how soon that happens.
ICYMI, Alex Morgan spun off her teen book series, The Kicks, into a movie recently that turned into the film Alex & Me where Morgan acted as herself. I can definitely see her head back to Hollywood, if given the proper opportunity.
It’s going to be an interesting two year stretch starting now for USWNT. Fair or not, the success of the USWNT will strongly influence how Alex Morgan will be remembered in women’s soccer history.
GO ALEX AND GO USA!