It’s been a crazy year and a half for Alex Morgan and the rest of the United States Women’s National Team.
Coming off a devastating penalty shootout loss to Japan in the 2011 World Cup, the U.S. reasserted its dominance over the women’s game this summer, winning gold in the 2012 London Olympic Games.
At the hub of much of this success was the rise of U.S. superstar Alex Morgan.
Here are three reasons Morgan is the biggest star in U.S. Soccer.
In 2010, the USWNT faced one of the worst moments in the history of the program. In the CONCACAF Women’s World Cup qualifying tournament, the U.S. lost to Mexico 2-1.
The loss in the tournament semifinals was the Americans' first ever loss to Mexico in 26 matches and put the U.S.’ World Cup qualification in doubt.
Because the U.S. did not make the final of the tournament, they were forced to play a home-and-away series against Italy for the final spot in the 2011 World Cup.
In the first leg, in Italy, with the game tied 0-0 in the 86th minute, Morgan entered the match.
Despite only having a handful of caps at that point and her college career having ended just one week earlier, it was Morgan’s 94th minute goal that made the difference as the U.S. went on to win the series 2-0.
In the 2011 World Cup, despite not starting a single game, Morgan was big when the team needed her to be.
In the semifinals against France, with the game tied 1-1 and the French outplaying the Americans for long stretches, Morgan entered the match in the 56th minute. She then scored the goal in the 82nd minute that put the game out of reach at 3-1 and put the U.S. into the finals.
In the finals against Japan with the score 0-0, Morgan again came off the bench and was the difference maker. She scored the go-ahead goal for the U.S. in the 69th minute.
The U.S. was unable to hold onto the lead, however, and the game went into overtime. Then again in overtime, Morgan stepped up, providing the assist to Abby Wambach as the U.S. went up again in the 104th minute.
One wonders if the U.S. would have won that game had Morgan been on the field from the start.
A year later in the 2012 London Olympics, with Morgan now firmly entrenched in the starting lineup, the U.S. excelled.
In the opening game of group play against France, Morgan scored both the equalizer and the goal that sealed the win.
In the second match of the group stage against Columbia, Morgan provided the game-winning assist that guaranteed U.S. advancement to the knockout round.
In the third game of group play against North Korea, Morgan again assisted on the game-winning goal.
Then, three days later in the quarterfinals of the knockout stage, Morgan once more, you guessed it, assisted on the game-winning goal.
In the thrilling semifinal match against Canada, it was Morgan’s beautifully-headed 123rd minute extra-time goal that won the match for the U.S.
And in the final, Morgan provided the assist on Carli Lloyd’s first goal against Japan.
It’s hard to believe that Morgan only recently became a starter for the USWNT.
In fact, she wasn’t even a starter for the U.S. at the beginning of 2012, and that wasn’t because of injury or fitness concerns.
However, in just under one year as a regular starter, Morgan’s accomplishments are nothing short of incredible.
She has 38 goals and 23 assists in just 56 caps and only 27 starts. That averages out to 1.41 goals per start.
When compared to current and past USWNT legends, Morgan’s dominance becomes obvious. In their careers, Abby Wambach has 0.86 goals per start, Michelle Akers had 0.77 goals per start and Mia Hamm had 0.64 goals per start.
In terms of goals per appearance, even though 29 of Morgan’s 56 caps have been as a substitute (the majority), Morgan’s goals per appearance average is 0.68. By comparison, Mia Hamm’s is 0.57.
Even though the USWNT is the most storied international program in the women’s game, Morgan is already 12th all-time in goals scored and 13th all-time in assists.
The scary part? Morgan is only 23 years old.
On Saturday night, in the eighth game of the Fan Celebration Tour, Alex Morgan assisted on a second-half goal by Sydney Leroux. The assist brought Morgan’s scoring total for the year to a whopping 28 goals and 20 assists.
The only other female player that has scored 20 goals and had 20 assists in a season was Mia Hamm. Hamm, widely regarded as the best American player of all time, scored exactly 20 goals and 20 assists in 1998.
There are three finalists for the 2012 Ballon d’Or, the award given out by FIFA to the best soccer player over the previous year. The three finalists for 2012 are Marta, Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan.
Morgan’s combination of playmaking, goal scoring and goal creation makes her the best player in the world right now, even ahead of Brazilian legend Marta and American legend Abby Wambach.
Morgan’s youth, as well as the fact that she may split some votes with her teammate Wambach, may mean Morgan doesn’t win the award, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that she has clearly been the best female player in 2012.
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