Algarve Cup 2012 Schedule: Alex Morgan Must Become Team USA's Top Target

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 1, 2012

VANCOUVER, CANADA - JANUARY 20: Heidy Salazar #12 of the Dominican Republic watches as Alex Morgan #13 of the United States kicks the ball for a goal during their game at the CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament at BC Place on January 20, 2012 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

Abby Wambach has been the focal point of the United States' offensive attack for a long time. The veteran striker has carried the team on her back for an extended period, but it's time for Alex Morgan to step up and assume that role at the Algarve Cup.

Morgan, a 22-year-old striker from California, scored two goals in the team's opening game against Denmark on Wednesday. The tallies brought her total to 18 in 33 career caps for the national team, still well behind Wambach's 132, which are behind only Mia Hamm in team history.

Wambach is nearing the end of her peak years, though. At 31, her production can be expected to steadily decline in the coming years after all the miles her legs have logged throughout her career begin to catch up with her.

She's been one of the sport's most dominant players in the air, regularly using her head to score key goals for Team USA. The most famous, of course, was at last year's World Cup against Brazil, when she literally saved the squad with a late header.

In the championship match against Japan, however, the team became overly reliant on her leading to an upset. It's been a common theme in recent years, but there's no reason it needs to continue.

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Morgan isn't as effective on crosses, but she's the best pure scorer on the roster. Her incredible pace, paired with terrific finishing ability, makes her potential virtually limitless. When given the opportunity to play, she's proven exactly that.

For the first time under manager Pia Sundhage, it appears she's going to be in the starting lineup consistently. It's the right decision, and it should have happened a long time ago, but better late than never.

She needs to use the Algarve Cup as a building block toward the Olympics this summer, where she could really become a superstar. Not a superstar simply in the sports sense, but in terms of becoming a celebrity.

While Morgan is a tremendous soccer player, she also has the looks to match. She was recently featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in the body paint section, taking her popularity to a whole new level.

Women athletes don't have as many outside opportunities as their male counterparts, and they certainly aren't on the same pay scale. So, expanding her brand should be important to Morgan. She can make that happen with a big performance in London.

But first, she must fully establish herself as the team's top target in the attacking third. Not only will it help the United States' chances in London, it will also take a lot of pressure off Wambach as well.

It all starts with the Algarve Cup. She's being given an opportunity to shine and needs to run with it, which is something she does pretty well.


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