Alex Morgan, One-on-One: France, fame, injuries and fighting for USWNT minutes
MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. -- Alex Morgan is among the most recognizable athletes in the world, and she has largely been the face of women's soccer in this country since her heroics in the United States’ gold-medal run at the 2012 London Olympics highlighted a mind-blowing campaign in which she scored 28 goals and assisted 21 more in 31 matches.
The explosive striker has been a force ever since, but it has not always been easy. She has battled injuries and inconsistency to score 73 international goals, with 36 assists, in 127 caps. She also played a prominent role in the United States' 2015 World Cup triumph, its first since 1999.
Morgan, 28, stars for the Orlando Pride in the National Women's Soccer League, recently returned from a Champions League-winning stint with French powerhouse Olympique Lyon and is now a veteran of the U.S. national team in transition.
She sat down with FourFourTwo and discuss the ups and downs of her career, the evolution of the national team, what she gained in France, and what it's like when paparazzi are in pursuit.
FFT: The national team is in transition right now. What's your role with the team during this phase, and how has it evolved in the last few years?
Alex Morgan: On the field, I don't think my role has changed. I'm a No. 9, and Jill has given me the role that she expects out of a No. 9, so on the field it's to continue to produce.
There are things that I need to personally change to show her that she can't take me off of the field, because I want to make that hard for her. I want to force her hand in playing me 90 minutes, but right now, I'm not doing that whatsoever. So it's on me.
This year, I haven't been able to do that as effectively as years past. Both because I've been more in France and not with the team as often -- I missed a camp due to my hamstring injury [suffered in my final game at Lyon] -- and then, with the transition of the team, [nobody is] getting consistent playing time, because [head coach Jill Ellis is] trying out new players.
As a player, it feels good to have that consistency [of games]. I'm going in the waves of the national team right now, in feeling good and not feeling so good.
FFT: There is more competition for every job, maybe more so than there's ever been, and there's no guarantee you'll start. What do you have to do to show Jill you should be in the lineup?
AM: I need to execute my role as a No. 9, leading the first line of defense, scoring the goals that I'm supposed to, and holding the ball up. Keeping possession for the team, making the runs in behind the backline [and] in front of the backline, staying high. Those are sort of the obvious things.
But I need to be playing at my best. I need to be feeling confident, and I felt really good in France, but with the national team, because I'm not getting that consistency, I feel like I haven't been at my best in terms of confidence and at my best in terms of playing. Because there isn't that fluidity that we might normally get in a year leading up to a World Cup or Olympics, with more consistency [in playing time].
I think that's affected me maybe more than some other players, and I find myself not playing to my best when I'm in this environment right now. So there are things that I need to personally change to show her that she can't take me off of the field, because I want to make that hard for her. I want to force her hand in playing me 90 minutes, but right now, I'm not doing that whatsoever. So it's on me.
FFT: The Pride is doing much better in year two -- just below .500 -- but still near the bottom of the standings.
AM: We have a lot better quality with Orlando. It's picking up points now that we dropped earlier this season. We know that we have a playoff-contending team. I think we have on paper one [of the best] if not the best team in the league. It's just putting all the pieces together and having a good second half of the season. Whereas last year, we didn't win a game for the last eight games of the season. We need to turn that around now.
FFT: You've been the face of the Orlando Pride since the club's formation. Is that a burden, or do you consider it more of a responsibility?
AM: Going into my first season with the Pride, it was a lot of moving parts, in terms of trying to gain players on the roster and try to fit players into pieces, but Tom [Sermanni, the head coach] only had so much pull. He had to try to just fill a roster to start with. So I think the first season was pretty difficult.
Coming in late to this season [after spending the first half of the year in France], it already seems so much easier to adjust. It seemed the locker room was in a lot better state, in terms of the chemistry of the players. So I felt really good coming in after half a season with the team in Lyon.
Last year, I guess not getting everything I wanted out of both the national team and the club team -- in terms of having a disappointing [quarterfinal] loss in the Olympics and then not winning a game for quite a few months with Orlando -- I think I needed something that was going to be challenging but also fulfilling. Sort of change that I knew would be difficult but would be attainable and achievable, and that was pushing myself in the direction of going to France. I don't know if having the burden or the pressure of being the face of the Pride had anything to do with that, I just wanted to play great soccer where I was challenged, where I felt like I could pick my confidence back up, and I think that it was perfect timing for me to go, and I felt like I did really well there.
I couldn't be relaxed for a day or two. I couldn't have a bad day. I had to push myself to be consistent, and I think a lot of times, I don't have that consistency in training or even in games.
I felt like I was challenged in the right way, and I got out of France what I needed, and coming back here, I did feel that Marta has picked up a lot of the burden of being the face of the Pride, and deservingly so. I'm excited to continue playing with her. And also Ali Krieger has come this year. So I think that last year and this year is just like comparing apples to oranges.
FFT: The Pride last year struggled mightily on the field, and the gate wasn't what you wanted it to be. Do you take that personally?
AM: Totally. I know when we start losing and not performing well, it's not because of effort. It's never because of effort. Were always out there trying to win. ... I think last year I took a lot on myself in terms of losing and not fulfilling expectations of what the club had. [The owners] put a lot of effort into bringing a team on in such a short period of time. They did so much from their side that I wanted so much for us to fulfill our side, and we just didn't get the results. It was disappointing.