If the name Alex Morgan hasn’t been brought to your attention yet, you probably aren’t a fan of soccer.
The American sensation, who originally put herself in the spotlight last summer at the 2011 World Cup, had a sensational next 12 months in which she became respected as one of the most dangerous attackers in the game.
Prior to not getting on the scoresheet today, Morgan had scored 11 goals in just eight appearances and dominated nearly every defense she faced. She couldn’t keep up her incredible goal-scoring form today, but she did plenty of other things on the pitch that helped Team USA grab the three points.
Here is a breakdown of her game.
Like we saw in the France game, the presence of Megan Rapinoe meant that Alex Morgan could really stay in the middle and work off Abby Wambach instead of drifting out wide to supply crosses like she occasionally has done in the past.
Also having workhorse Heather O’Reilly, who lives to cross the ball, on the right wing meant that Morgan could focus much more on making runs inside the box than touches outside of it.
Early in the game, we saw Morgan twice make long runs over the top of the defense and simply use her speed to create distance from defenders, yet this strategy was quickly ditched in favor of having Lauren Cheney and Carli Lloyd possess the ball and make shorter, quicker passes.
Staying onside was certainly a problem for Morgan against Colombia, as she often found herself too eager to get behind the defense, resulting in the flag going up. While it was disruptive at times, the amount of space-opening runs she made the rest of the game made up for her few mistakes.
Despite some very dangerous near-post runs, poor crosses throughout both halves meant that Morgan couldn’t use her good positioning to get the USWNT on the scoreboard. Instead, she had to find other ways to get herself into the game and make something happen.
Where Morgan really got herself into the game was with phenomenal pressure on the Colombian defenders. She used her excellent speed countless times to close down quickly on fullbacks and force a turnover or counterattack for the Americans.
It was actually Morgan’s pressure and steal that led to Megan Rapinoe’s opening goal for the USWNT.
Pressure on defenses is an attribute rarely praised in the modern game, but it is highly effective, as it never allows opposing players to feel comfortable and get into some sort of flow. Rarely did the Colombians really control the ball in the middle of the pitch often because Morgan’s defense forced the Colombian backs to bomb it up field rather than play passes to the midfield.
It was Morgan’s pressure that really set the tone and allowed a stronger US defense to easily win headers and give the US back possession whenever needed.
With the Ball
When the US got possession back, Morgan made her mark on the game by quick, creative turns and passes in the attacking third.
When she wasn’t making a variety of runs to open up space for her teammates in the midfield, she was holding up the ball before providing a killer switch-of-field or flick-on pass that opened up the Colombian defense. In terms of possessing the ball and finding teammates, this might have been one of her strongest games of 2012.
The maturity in her game with the ball at her feet is remarkable compared to where she was just 12 months ago.
The Verdict (Grade): A-
Morgan’s variety of runs in the attacking third gave space to Wambach, Rapinoe and O’Reilly, yet her good positioning was never finished off by a solid final pass and goal.
Instead, Morgan applied incredible pressure on the Colombian defense to consistently give the USWNT the ball back. Once the ball was at her feet, holding the ball temporarily before making clever passes helped the US really put forth a dominating performance against Colombia.
While she may not have scored, you would be wrong to think that Alex Morgan didn’t put forth another star performance on a big stage.