Two weeks ago, FIFA unveiled its shortlists for the Ballon d’Or, the award given annually to the world’s best player. To no one’s surprise, Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and the United States women’s national team’s Alex Morgan were on the list.
Certainly, their styles, while similar, are not the same. The closest comparison to Messi’s jinking style in the women’s game is Brazilian forward Marta. However, Morgan remains the closest comparison to Messi in the women’s game for several reasons.
They are both the best player in the world
On the men’s side, it is difficult to argue with Messi’s brilliance. While Cristiano Ronaldo fans love to argue their point, the numbers are clear. Messi bagged 46 goals in the 2012-13 La Liga campaign compared to Ronaldo’s 34 and Messi has won the Ballon d’Or for four consecutive years.
The argument for Morgan as the best in the women’s game is more complicated. Abby Wambach tends to get more attention as she is the U.S.’ all-time leading goalscorer and won the 2012 Ballon d’Or. However, the numbers reveal that Morgan is the more productive player.
In 2012, Morgan scored 28 goals and notched 20 assists. By comparison, Wambach scored 25 goals and had eight assists, despite playing more minutes than Morgan. And, while Morgan did not win FIFA’s award as the best player in the world, she was recognized by U.S. Soccer as their Player of the Year—over Wambach.
In 2013, Morgan’s team won the inaugural National Women’s Soccer League title, beating Wambach’s side 2-0 in the final. And, in the only “major” international tournament of 2013, the Algarve Cup, Morgan scored three goals and racked up four assists, compared to Wambach’s one goal and zero assists. Morgan also scored both goals in the team’s 2-0 win over Germany in the final of that tournament.
They both play for the best team in the world over the past half-decade
It’s pretty hard to argue against the dominance of FC Barcelona or the USWNT over the world of football in recent years. While a straight-up comparison is difficult, especially because one is based on club football and one on international football, in the women’s game, the international stage is the premier side of the game.
Over the past five seasons, Barcelona has won La Liga four times and the Champions League twice. The USWNT finished second at the 2011 World Cup, won the 2012 Olympic gold and, remarkably, has held FIFA’s No. 1 world ranking since December 2007.
They are both incredibly underrated as playmakers
It’s natural for players like Messi and Morgan, both terrific goal-scorers, to have their playmaking contributions overlooked. But both players have the ability to provide brilliant passes to their teammates.
Messi was, of course, tutored at the famed La Masia, well-known for its ability to produce players capable of making impossible passes in the tightest of spaces. And, playing with a stable of players trained in the same style, Messi is often is the provider, not just the goalscorer, for Barcelona.
Morgan has a similar genius on the ball that is also often overlooked. She has a vision in the area few players in the women’s game possess and, since she became a regular starter with the U.S. women in 2012, the results have been staggering.
In 2010 and 2011, when Morgan was only a minor role player for the U.S., mainly coming off the bench, the U.S. attack averaged 2.72 and 2.05 goals per game, respectively. In 2012 and 2013, since Morgan became a regular in the starting XI, the USWNT has averaged 3.75 and 3.47 goals per game, respectively.
Whether it’s being the best player in the world, playing for the best team, or being an incredible playmaker, Alex Morgan is the Lionel Messi of the women’s game.