Los Angeles Times

Morgan shows why she’s still deserving


MONTERREY, Mexico — The slogan for the just-concluded CONCACAF W Championsh­ip, the regional qualifying competitio­n for the 2023 Women’s World Cup and Paris Olympics, was “We Belong.”

Whether it was intended as a statement or a plea wasn’t clear, but either way it felt degrading. Just imagine CONCACAF attaching the slogan to the men’s qualifying event and telling Christian Pulisic, Memo Ochoa and Alphonso Davies that they belong.

Alex Morgan didn’t take it as an insult though. At 33, seemingly on the back nine of her career, Morgan came into the tournament determined to prove she still deserved her place on the national team.

U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski, however, didn’t need to be sold.

“Alex is a better player,” he said. “What makes her special is that she doesn’t want to stop growing. She doesn't want to stop developing. She wants to sophistica­te her game in any way possible. And she has been doing that day in and day out.”

She proved her worth in the W Championsh­ip, scoring on a penalty kick in the 78th minute to give the U.S. a 1-0 win over Canada in Monday’s final.

That earned the Americans CONCACAF’s lone automatic berth in the 2024 Paris Olympics. The U.S. — along with Canada, Costa Rica and Jamaica — also qualified for next summer’s World Cup by making the semifinals of the W Championsh­ip.

The goal, the only one Canada conceded in the tournament, was Morgan’s 118th in internatio­nal play. It’s the most among active U.S. players, and it avenged the Americans’ last loss, which came against Canada 19 games ago in the semifinals of the Tokyo Olympics. It also capped a stellar two weeks that saw Morgan win the Golden Ball as the best player while tying for the tournament lead with three goals.

“I just feel good overall. I’m happy, I’m healthy, I’m confident,” said Morgan, who took a nearly yearlong maternity break before the Tokyo Games. “I just feel like I’m able to contribute exactly what’s being asking of me.”

Part of that ask is leadership. Now that she’s older, wiser and a mother, she has embraced her role as a mentor for her younger teammates, something she had shied away from previously.

“They’re just hungry. They’re lethal. These players are making a name for themselves at a young age,” said Morgan, who has also scored a career-high 11 goals in 10 games with her NWSL club, the expansion San Diego Wave. “It’s incredible to see. This experience is going to go a long way for them when you look at the next years.”

After last summer’s Tokyo Olympics, where the U.S. fielded the oldest team in the tournament and finished third, the second-worst performanc­e for a U.S. women’s team in Olympic soccer history, Andonovski embarked on an ambitious rebuilding project. As a result, the roster he took to Mexico for the CONCACAF tournament was an average of three years younger than the one he took to Japan a year ago.

“We're moving in the right direction. It is very obvious that the team is significan­tly younger,” Andonovski said.

In fact, nine women who played in that Olympic loss to Canada weren’t even on the team in Mexico — and 13 who were there were participat­ing in their first World Cup or Olympic qualifying tournament. Morgan was one of only four U.S. women who played in both games with Canada and she led by example and performanc­e in Mexico, starting four of the Americans’ five games despite the punishing heat.

“Alex is a big player and big players are forged for big moments,” Andonovski said.

“She’s a winner. She knows how to win big games. She knows how to perform in big games. She has done it before. She’s won World Cups. She's won the Olympics.”

After Mexico, pencil in Morgan for at least one go at both tournament­s. She has more than proved she belongs.

 ?? Roberto Martinez Associated Press ?? ALEX MORGAN stood above all after earning the Golden Ball at the W Championsh­ip.
Roberto Martinez Associated Press ALEX MORGAN stood above all after earning the Golden Ball at the W Championsh­ip.

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