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Sydney Leroux passes the ball to Alex Morgan, who feeds it to Taylor Kornieck. The midfielder loops the ball back to Morgan, who brilliantly rips her shot inside the far post with the first touch of her left foot.
Yes, Morgan — for many years the darling of women’s soccer in America — is all the way back, and the timing could not be better.
That goal recently played out for the Orlando Pride in the NWSL, and we just as easily could see such a flourish at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which — fortuitously for Morgan — are being held next month, not a year ago.
The United States women’s national team is looking to become the first team in history to win the World Cup and an Olympic gold medal back-to-back. And Morgan, penciled in as the squad’s starting center forward, will be a crucial part to achieving that exacta in Tokyo.
Morgan gave birth to her daughter, Charlie, two months before the Olympics were slated to begin in 2020. While she had been preparing to return to the field quickly, the yearlong delay due to the coronavirus pandemic has provided her the opportunity and time to regain her top form.
“It was going to be a really tight turnaround and I was going to have to force my body to recover faster than I would have liked,” Morgan told Yahoo Sports. “Thinking about the positives, I was really able to spend more time with my daughter and give my body the rest and recovery it needed from giving birth. All the uncertainty has really taught the team to take it one day at a time.”
In October 2019, when Vlatko Andonovski was introduced as U.S. head coach just days after Morgan announced she was pregnant, he said the U.S. federation was looking into every option to speed up Morgan’s return to the field.
“We’re going to do everything in our power, use the resources that the federation is providing, whether it’s high-performance director, staff, anything that we can do on our side to help her get back for the Olympics,” Andonovski said.
However, Morgan knew that despite her wishes to get back on the field and compete, she was working against a force that she could not control, even on her best days.
“In 2020, I knew that honestly, some of it wasn’t really up to me,” Morgan said. “It was just up to how my body was going to recover.”
The 31-year-old decided the best way to continue prepping for the Olympics was to continue playing throughout the year and get back into a top training environment. The NWSL played four games last fall, which Morgan felt would not be enough. She signed with Tottenham Hotspur F.C. Women in England in September 2020. In the four games she played overseas, she scored two goals.
“It wasn’t my intention to go to Orlando and then decide to play for another club in another country,” the two-time World Cup champion recently said in a press conference, “but I wanted to give myself the best opportunity to get back to full fitness, get back to playing consistent matches, get back to feeling like myself, or even surpassing that, and to be able to do that I needed to play consistent games, period.”
The extra reps are paying off for Morgan. She has been in electric form with the Pride in NWSL play this spring. She became the first NWSL player to begin the season with a four-goal streak in the first four matches, earning NWSL Player of the Month in May.
Andonovski called Morgan’s NWSL performance has been “extraordinary” and said the league games had been exceptionally beneficial for her.
“She’s very involved in everything the Pride are doing, which makes me happy,” he said. “It is very similar to how we see her role with us, being involved in the attack, organizing the attacking, but also getting behind the through balls and finishing those attacks.”
Since the start of the year, Morgan and Carli Lloyd have primarily split the starting position at the No. 9 spot for the USWNT. But in two recent warmup matches, against highly ranked France in April and against Portugal in mid-June, Morgan got the starting nod with Megan Rapinoe and Christen Press on the wings — an indication this trio will be the first choice to start at the Olympics.
The trail to Tokyo has been difficult for Morgan, from her 2019 patella stress reaction to her pregnancy and childbirth to the brutal training schedule she’s put herself through to prepare for this Olympic moment. Now it’s nearly here — and she appears ready.
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