On November 20th, 2010, Alex Morgan scored an injury time winner against Italy in the first leg of the USWNT World Cup playoff match to give the U.S. the critical away goal, and a 1-0 lead going home.
Quickly becoming the scorer of vital goals (her first against China ensured the USWNT’s undefeated home record), she’s the youngest player on the current USWNT squad.
Deadly in front of goal and possessing all the skills needed to become a top class striker, Alex is a charming and incredibly humble young woman.
Alex was gracious enough to take some time away from her studies (finishing up at UC Berkeley) to talk to us.
Here is an excerpt of what we talked about.
TSG: So at the beginning of this year which did you think was more unlikely: You scoring a critical goal in a must-win series for the USWNT or merely playing for the USWNT?
Alex Morgan: Well scoring the critical goal was more unlikely. I was surprised to even get called in from Pia to come into the camp, which was just an honor for me. Once I made the qualifying roster, from then on I was just enjoying the ride, and accepting my role on the team. So scoring the critical goal was definitely more unlikely.
TSG: Typically qualification for any major tournament is a cakewalk for the USWNT, but this time you guys had to play in a playoff to qualify. What was the mood like in the squad before the first and second legs?
AM: We were pretty fired up as this had never happened before. We were really disappointed after the Mexico game in Cancun. We got a few days to clear our thoughts and we came back and were super focused and ready to take on Italy in both games. I’m glad we showed up for both games as it showed we really wanted it, especially when we scored in the 94th minute in the first game.
TSG: You’re USA’s youngest player, and in only 8 appearances have scored 4 goals. Abby Wambach said that your 94th minute winner against Italy was one of the “top-five most important goals in U.S. History.” How did it feel giving your National Team a huge boost going into the second leg?
AM: It wasn’t just me, it was a whole team effort. We were going hard until the last whistle blew. For Abby to say that is a real honor, as she is a close friend on the team. So that was amazing to hear that from her. Just for us to be up a goal in Italy gave us a chance to relax and to have the upper hand going into the second leg.
TSG: Can you describe the play that led to the goal. How did you remain so composed?
AM: Well, Pia told Abby and I to stay up. We were a little stretched out, but we got a throw in in our defensive third and Carli [Lloyd] got the ball and turned it. I knew by her body language that it was going to be a long ball, and I knew it was going to Abby. Most long balls over the top are looking for Abby to run onto them. So Carli gave a great long ball and Abby was in the perfect position to flick it on, and I tried to position myself to cut off the defender and the ball came straight to my feet, and luckily I was composed enough to put it away.
TSG: LUCKILY! You seemed pretty composed.
AM: At the international level you really only get a few chances, so I really try and stay composed in front of goal. I had a pretty poor shot right after I came in, so that was my bad shot that I got out of the way. So once I got that ball from Abby, I really tried to stay composed and put it in the corner.
TSG: Now that the USWNT has qualified, what do you need to do to ensure your ticket to Germany? What do you think your chances are?
AM: Well, I need to do whatever Pia tells me to do, to work on what is really going to help me contribute to the team. The more I can contribute to the team, the more of an asset I am. So really working on my weaknesses as well as my strengths.
I’ll be done with school in two weeks, so I can focus on soccer which will help a lot. I’m really not taking anything for granted. Even though I scored that critical goal, I haven’t really established myself on this team. I don’t have a secure spot whatsoever. It’s really important for me to keep working every day on anything that I can improve on. I’m taking advice from all my teammates as well as Pia.
Abby has been on the team for so long and has scored over 100 goals, so any advice I can get from her and the rest will really help.
TSG: You’ve mentioned Pia a lot. How is she as a coach?
AM: For the team she has been really good about developing us tactically. The U.S. is known for its strength, speed and having a strong mentality, but she’s been working hard to develop more than just those attributes, and preparing us months before the World Cup.
Personally she wants to see what I can offer before she steps in and develops me as a player that she feels can contribute most to the team. I’ve only been with the team for less than a year, so I don’t think she thinks I’ve shown everything that I’m capable of. It has been very nice that Pia has given me the opportunity to show myself and recognizes that I have more to offer.
TSG: Being in college but also playing for the USWNT, is it hard to tell your college friends, “No I’m sorry, I cannot do any keg stands as I have to play for the United States this weekend”?
AM: [Chuckles for a couple of seconds] This is my last year of college, and I’m ready for the next step. Ever since the U20s, I’ve grown up and become more mature as a player and as a professional. I’ve been ready for quite a while to take this next step and really commit myself to the National Team.
Thankfully Pia has given me a year to transition. It will be hard to leave my friends and teammates here at Cal, but this is what I wanted, what I’ve worked up to, and dreamed of my entire life.
TSG: Now that your college career is over, what are your future plans regarding soccer for a club team? Some of the WPS teams, like FC Gold Pride here in the Bay Area, are folding. Are there options abroad or are you solely concentrating on the National Team?
AM: I’m going to concentrate on the National Team for as long as I can, but in terms of club teams, I definitely want to support soccer in America.
I definitely want to play in the WPS as long as there is a league in the States. I hope it stays alive and it’s looking good for next year.
I’m hoping to get drafted and be playing on a team next year. I want to support soccer in America, but if something goes wrong with the WPS, I have no problems playing abroad.
My options are really open.
TSG: I’m assuming going abroad means playing in Europe. Is there a certain league or team that you would like to play with?
AM: I haven’t thought about it much, as I’ve really been interested in the WPS, but I’ve heard that England’s professional league is starting up next year. Sweden and Norway always have great women’s professional teams, and one of my teammates, Ali Krieger, is on Frankfurt. There are really quite a few options, but I haven’t really looked into going abroad too much.
TSG: You played for the Pali Blues. We did a supporter series on the Tony Danza Army. Can you describe your experience playing with the team and the supporters who followed you?
AM: I only really got a couple of opportunities to play with the Pali Blues. I was trying to graduate early, so last summer I was in school and taking a full load of classes. Charlie [Naimo] is a great coach and I was lucky enough to play for him. He flew me out for a few games. We played in Canada, Washington and in LA which is their home base.
I had a great time playing with them and they have a lot of supporters which is really awesome for a W-League team. All the girls on the team all seemed very committed for a W-League team, which is great for the fans and supporters. I really enjoyed playing with them and it’s unfortunate that I only got to play with them for a few games.
TSG: So back to the upcoming World Cup. The USWNT has drawn arguably the toughest group of the tournament with Sweden, North Korea and Colombia. How do you feel about the USWNT’s chances in Germany?
AM: I’m actually pretty pleased with our group. I think we do have a tough group, but it is very diverse. I like that a lot, because it really prepares us for the next step in the tournament. We have a South American team from Colombia and North Korea, a team we cannot scout, and Sweden which is where Pia is from. There are only 16 countries that get to go to the World Cup, so there really is no easy group. I do think that our group and Germany’s group are the toughest.
TSG: You played against the North Koreans in the U20’s World Cup Final in Chile, scoring arguably the goal of the tournament in the final. Do you know if any of the players you played against will be playing in Germany?
AM: I don’t know who’ll be playing in Germany from that team. They work very well together and made it to the finals. They have always been a very good team, because they work hard and never give up. In the final against us, they scored in the last 5 to 10 minutes when we were up 2-0, so they never really gave up and which is a very good quality to have in a team. It will be a good fight.
TSG: Even though you have a great scoring record for the National Team, you’re not in the starting eleven. How do you prepare for being a super sub striker when you’re called upon?
AM: All my life I’ve been playing and starting a full 90 minutes, but now I have a new role. [Incredibly enthusiastically] I love my new role!
I’ve never had this role before. I think it’s pretty cool, and as funny as that sounds, I think it’s cool to come off the bench and be in a high-pressure situation and be depended on to score.
All I can say is that I love my role right now. Pia decides whether I sit on the bench for 90 minutes, or if I come on for 10 minutes or 45 minutes, and that’s my role and I’m accepting it right now. I love it and it’s worked out for me so far.
TSG: One characteristic that is very evident in the USWNT is the camaraderie. Can you discuss how this helps you as a young player, if it does at all?
AM: I think it is something special about our team that we are all very close. I didn’t feel it as much with the youth teams, but when I came on to the full National Team it was different. Some of these girls have played together for 5, 10 and even 15 years, and have spent most of their lives with each other.
They’re all best friends and these girls will be at my wedding and hopefully I’ll be in some of theirs. I’m really growing up with these girls, as I am with them more than I am with my family or my friends back home.
When you’re around people so much, you really do have to come together and work for each other, and that’s what we’ve been doing, and it has been working out well for us. We had the unfortunate loss in Mexico, but after that we really came together.
Being the youngest player, everyone’s really accepted me. From Kristine Lilly to Abby and even some of the younger players, that are only a year or two older than me, have accepted me, which is really helped me transition from college to the National Team.
TSG: So what can the older players like Boxx and Lilly learn from you?
AM: Good question [TSG pats ourself on the back]. I’ve never been asked that question before. I’m not sure because they’re the ones that have been doing it for years.
TSG: Sure, but you probably provide a spark and an excitement to play the game that rejuvenates them!
AM: I’m definitely excited about everything. I’m very excited about being on the team and everyday I’m thankful. I have that young attitude of wanting to go out and beat every team, that young attitude that they might not have had in a while. But they’ve really taught me more than I could ever teach them, so I really have them to thank.
TSG: Do you have any role models or players whose game you looked up to and wanted to emulate growing up?
AM: I know this is kind of cliché, but I’ve looked up to Kristine Lilly [ TSG did an interview with Kristine Lilly back in October ] my entire life. I actually wore number 13 up until I got to the full team. I wore it with the U20s, I wore it in college and on my club teams.
TSG: You do realize that you were born after her first cap for the USWNT?
AM: Yeah I realized that. She came on the National Team when she was very young. She was one of the Fab Five and I love all those girls, but I really looked up to Kristine and the way she played and how she presented herself.
She’s going to be 40 this year [actually July 22 of next year], and hopefully makes it to the World Cup. That is amazing to me. I think that story is absolutely amazing. No one is ever going to have as many caps as she has. I think she’s an amazing player and person, and I really look up to her.
TSG: You’ve proven to be quite a prolific striker in college and with the National Team, and you were born in the U.S. Why do you think the USMNT has such difficulty in finding a striker of similar ilk to yourself?
AM: Well I think the real reason is that young girls grow up playing soccer and it’s one of the biggest sports for girls. There is such variety of sports in the U.S. for men, and soccer isn’t that big. It’s getting bigger, but MLS started 10 to 15 years ago, so growing up, young boys liked baseball and American Football, so soccer was kind of lost.
In American Football, you need big, strong guys whereas soccer is more of a finesse sport; so those skills haven’t quite developed yet. I do think soccer is going to take over in the next 10 or 20 years, so that should make a big difference, I hope.
TSG: So time to spill the beans on the veterans on the team! Do certain people get first choice of seats on the bus or plane? Do you have to carry Lilly’s bags? Is there any rookie hazing?
AM: It is kind of sad, but there really isn’t. I have carried all the girls jackets off the field when they’re done with them, but seriously everyone helps out. There isn’t been much hazing from the older players.
There are a lot of jokes being played, I don’t want to name any names, HEATHER MITTS, but they’re not directed towards the younger girls, but at everyone. We are on long trips with each other for three to four weeks at a time, so we like to keep things not too serious.
TSG: Are there any club teams that you support?
AM: Well, obviously, like half the world, I’m a Barca fan.
TSG: Did you watch the game on Monday [Barcelona hosted Real Madrid]? I thought it was possibly one of the greatest games ever played.
AM: I know that sometimes games when one team is getting whipped are boring to watch, but that was the most amazing game. I love watching Barcelona play at anytime, but that game was the best, especially because it was against their biggest rivals.
TSG: Any favorite players on Barcelona?
AM: I like Pique. I know he’s a defender and that might be weird, but I think he’s one of the best defenders in the world.
I also like Pedro a lot because he brings that young fire that I try and bring to the National Team. I watched him in the World Cup last year and I really like his style of play
TSG: So last question here. We’re impressed you’re following Iniesta on Twitter, but we’re concerned that you are following Snooki…care to explain?
AM: [Laughs] Oh my God! I know it’s sad, but I love the Jersey Shore. It’s one of the most ridiculous shows in the world but I think it’s hilarious.
I follow Snooki and Pauly D and their tweets are so ridiculous. But that show is great, though it doesn’t give Jersey a very good name.
TSG: Well good luck with your World Cup preparations and good luck with the rest of your classes.
AM: Thank you, Shaun.