Women's World Cup: Pestering foes force Alex Morgan to adjust game
Lyon, France — After collecting five goals in her first game, Alex Morgan is getting a lot of attention at the Women’s World Cup — from defenders.
The U.S. forward has been shut down scoring-wise ever since her splash in the opener, as opponents have honed in on her, often with physical play. But that’s just allowed her to emphasize other aspects of her game.
Morgan said each match in France has “presented itself in a different way.”
“Naturally as a No. 9 I’m going to be plowed through quite often. I understand that comes along with the job and it happens many times, in the NWSL and even in friendlies,” she said, referring to the U.S. domestic league. “So I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily more physical in general at this World Cup, I would just say it just comes with the territory.”
Morgan and the top-ranked United States play No. 3 England on Tuesday in the semifinals. Sweden will play the Netherlands the next day to set up next Sunday’s title match.
Morgan’s five goals in a 13-0 victory over Thailand to open the tournament matched the record for most goals in a single game at the World Cup. She rested the team’s next match against Chile.
While she hasn’t scored since, she’s been vitally important to the United States. She helped set up both of Megan Rapinoe’s goals in the team’s 2-1 quarterfinal victory over France — drawing the foul for the free kick on the first, and setting up Tobin Heath’s sprint up field and cross that Rapinoe buried for the second.
Afterward, U.S. coach Jill Ellis said Morgan put her “heart and soul” into the game.
“The kudos to Alex is I think she has a balance to her game, in terms of penetration, and being able, like she did in the France game, to be more of a player that can hold the ball up for us,” Ellis said. “And that’s tough.”
Both Sweden and Spain, the two opponents the Americans faced before France, targeted Morgan relentlessly. She was kicked in the first half of the 2-0 victory over Sweden to close the group stage then menaced by Spain to open the round of 16.
Rapinoe stepped up and scored two goals against both Spain and France.
“Right now, Megan Rapinoe has put the team on her back, from Spain to France, and it’s going to take players like that, and a couple individuals each game, to step up and really help carry this team,” Morgan said.
Morgan was named U.S. Soccer’s player of the year last year after leading the team with 18 goals in 19 games. It was the second time she earned the honor: She also won in 2012, when she had 28 goals and helped the team win an Olympic title.
She had seven of those goals during the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament last fall to earn the Golden Boot.
She’s in the running for the Golden Boot in France, too. With five goals, she’s atop the leaderboard along with Rapinoe, England’s Ellen White and Australia’s Sam Kerr.
“I would love someone on our team to win the Golden Boot. Of course it would be a great accolade, but that’s not my goal. My goal is to help this team win a World Cup,” Morgan said.
Morgan first grabbed attention in the 2011 World Cup as the youngest player to make the U.S. squad. She scored in the final, which Japan won on penalty kicks.
Morgan was injured during qualifying for the 2015 World Cup and she sat out of the tournament until the final match of the group stage. But she started for the decisive 5-2 victory in the final over Japan — highlighted by Carli Lloyd’s hat trick.
Overall, Morgan has 106 career goals in 167 matches for the United States. She’s scored 33 goals over her last 39 games. She has eight total World Cup goals.
In France, however, the goals don’t necessarily matter. What does is winning the United States’ fourth World Cup.
“I think there’s a single-mindedness right now in Alex and I see that in her play and off the field as well,” Ellis said.
USA vs. England
What: Women’s World Cup semifinal
When: Tuesday, 3 p.m.
At stake: Spot in World Cup final against the Netherlands or Sweden.