United States sensation and rising star Alex Morgan will head to the 2013 Algarve Cup under a weight of expectation and excitement about what's to come.
Morgan recently had a stellar 2012 that saw her dominate for both the United States Women's National Team as well as the Seattle Sounders, with her strong skills and effectiveness in front of goal proving too much for her opponents to handle throughout the year.
She netted the game-winning goal in the gold-medal match at the 2012 London Olympics, and continued to dominate right across the year for the USWNT.
When United States Soccer released this video of Morgan's highlights for the year, it was simply like watching an everyday appearance from the 23-year-old.
Her 28 goals and 21 assists in a calendar year was something that only the great Mia Hamm had done before. And yet, with her graceful technique and devastating right foot, Morgan continued to make goal-scoring and attacking brilliance look simply effortless.
The year culminated in Morgan finishing third in the FIFA Women's World Player of the Year Award—something that few doubt she'll be challenging for again this season. And that challenge should start at the Algarve Cup in Portugal—the biggest women's football tournament in the world.
The United States is the clear favorite to win the title in Portugal, having finished third in the competition last season with Japan winning out. But with a stronger team this time around, and no obvious stars missing from its lineup, the USWNT is expected to thrive on the field.
And that all starts and ends with Morgan.
Whether she'll finish with the goals and the records from the tournament or whether those will fall to fellow attacker Abby Wambach still remains to be seen. But what is clear, is that given her recent form and success both on and off the field, Morgan will shine bright once more in Portugal.
Should the United States make the finals and indeed win the tournament—which seems likely—it is virtually given that the 23-year-old will be involved. Her attacking skills and finishing ability are simply too good not to be utilized by the USWNT here as they chase the championship.
Morgan may well challenge her 20-plus goals and 20-plus assists in a calendar year again this season, and she may have an even stronger year than before. She might well challenge Wambach for the title of being the greatest women's player in the world—something that she's certainly quickly becoming.
And when the year is complete and we look back on all that's unfolded, we'll no doubt see this international tournament as the defining mark of it all. If not just for giving her the confidence and the self-belief that whatever she achieved last year, she can do all over again in 2013.
The USWNT will be hoping so, anyway.
Can Alex Morgan lead the USWNT to glory at the 2013 Algarve Cup?
Comment below or hit me up on Twitter: Follow @dantalintyre