On March 8, 2016, we theorized that Alex Morgan might not be as good as she used to be. At the time, Morgan was underperforming (by Morgan standards, anyway), but she was also working her way back from lingering lowkey injuries. With the Olympics on the horizon and Morgan expected to be the veteran leader amongst the forwards, it’s a good time to check back in. Let’s look at her most recent results.
Before the article, Morgan was scoring at a rate of about a goal every 86 minutes in 2016, with seven goals in eight games - but three of them came in a 5-0 whomping of Trinidad & Tobago, two were against Costa Rica, and one was against Ireland. Only one goal in the 2016 period leading up to the article was against a top nation, and that was the game winning goal against France. Counting goals against teams in the top 20, that made just one goal in 605 minutes. Before that, a slightly slow 2015 with seven goals in 22 games, or a goal every 221 minutes, and four of those goals against teams out of the top 20. But Morgan not only had a knee issue going into the World Cup, she had knee surgery after it in July, which naturally limited her scoring. Then, a nagging hip injury leading into NWSL preseason in April.
After the article was published, she was scoring at about a goal every 96 minutes, and all of them were against top 10 teams. That’s four goals in six games, two of them against Japan when the US was down 0-2 and needed to be dragged back to a tie. The other two goals were against Germany and also against Japan in the second US friendly against them in early June. Japan might be dealing with a bit of rebuilding at the moment, but they’re both top quality opponents, and a goal against either country is slightly more involved than a goal against Colombia during a 7-0 rout. As we can see now, that goal against France was followed right away by a goal against Germany during the She Believes tournament, lending support to the notion that it was more Morgan coming back into form with back-to-back high level goals as opposed to an isolated event.
The goal against France is classic Alex Morgan. Mal Pugh feeds her a fantastic ball while she’s sitting between defenders. Morgan takes off with the ball at her feet, gets into a one on one with the goalkeeper and places it past her.
The goal against Germany is similar, but better. Morgan is in her accustomed spot, lingering along the back line. Meghan Klingenberg wins the ball and sends it over the top. Morgan is able to hold her run to stay on, then bursts off the defender’s shoulder, stays composed in the box with two defenders trying to close on her and the goalkeeper coming off her line, touches it around her defender and finishes calmly.
In both of these goals we see the classic Morgan, matched with her calm experience; many a rookie forward in the same position has blasted the ball into the stands.
Now let’s look at the goals from the first Japan friendly.
The first goal, Morgan is running into the box with numbers and smartly holds up her run to create some space. The Japanese goalkeeper is slow to get down or perhaps can’t quite see through her defenders; either way, Morgan scores on a low shot. The second goal, Morgan runs in on a set piece and split-second finishes a deflection from Julie Johnston.
So the types of goals Morgan can score are still good; she’s not racking up easy tap-ins or cleaning up garbage goals. It doesn’t look like Morgan was declining so much as she was in a slump partially driven by a raft of persistent lowkey injuries that kept her at something like 70 or 80% of full capacity. It didn’t help that she kept getting played in nearly every single WNT game when really she needed to rest. Out of the 15 games the WNT has played in 2016, Morgan has played in 13 of them for at least a half.
Now at 27, she’s just about still in her prime, albeit not in the way that many fans might have envisioned based on the beginning of her career with the national team, when she was known for quantum leaping deep into the other team’s defensive third and scoring at a ridiculously sharp angle, often in the later stages of the game. That’s fine; players evolve, rosters evolve, and styles evolve. Those who don’t become obsolete, sometimes even a detriment to their teams.
Morgan is evolving with her team, which has gone through quite a few attacking changes. That means no longer having to be the only focal point, or playing off of Abby Wambach. With Christen Press, Mal Pugh, and Crystal Dunn around her, there is more room for her to either play the lure, drawing defenders away and opening up space for others, or to interchange and be a playmaker around the box. Look at this Crystal Dunn goal against Costa Rica, where Morgan’s presence draws out a defender and opens a seam in the back line that she can pass through for Klingenberg, which sets up the goal.
So yeah, Alex Morgan is fine. She and the other forwards on the Olympic squad represent a ridiculous amount of attacking talent, and Morgan seems like she’s full strength again, doing regular 90-minute games with her club, the Orlando Pride.
Sports are weird and all sorts of surprises can emerge in big tournaments but there’s no reason not to expect Morgan to keep chugging along. She’ll bag a couple of goals in the Olympics, and if the WNT earns another victory tour afterwards, will probably bag some more there too, perhaps putting her on track for another 20-goal year. But let’s not put the cart before the horse; there’s still group stage to get through, with France, Colombia, and New Zealand all on deck. Whether goalscorer, provider, distraction, or some combination of the three, Morgan is going to be a key starter for the WNT in Brazil and that’s good news for US fans everywhere.