July 25, 2012
By Dean Caparaz '90
London is the next stop on the whirlwind career of California alumna and U.S. women's soccer star Alex Morgan.
The former Golden Bear forward earned a spot on U.S. coach Pia Sundhage's Olympic roster for the 12-team tournament, after earning international acclaim during last summer's Women's World Cup. She is one of seven U.S. players who will appear in her first Olympics, which, for women's soccer, starts on July 25, two days before the Opening Ceremonies. The U.S. women play that day against France in Glasgow, Scotland.
Morgan has come a long way since she finished her Cal career in 2010.
Last year, the Diamond Bar, Calif., native became a household name with her late-game/super-sub heroics that helped the United States reach the World Cup final. She came off the bench in five of the six games in Germany and scored in the semifinal and the final, which the United States eventually lost to Japan on penalty kicks. Her new-found fame has led to various red-carpet events ("Entourage" premiere and fashion week), magazine features (Sports Illustrated, Seventeen, etc.), television appearances ("Good Morning America") and even a SportsCenter commercial.
"I did not know what to expect," Morgan said of the media attention she has received. "I did know that becoming a professional athlete meant taking the next step physically, nutritionally and mentally. But I had no idea there was another aspect of it. Social media has been so huge this last year in that respect. I really put myself out on the Internet and gained fans that way, but I didn't know that I really had to put myself out there more and be more open to a lot of media requests and appearances. I had no idea that there was that side of being a professional athlete in women's soccer.
"Obviously I've watched American football and basketball, and all those players appear in advertisements and commercials. But I never thought that we would get to that point, and seeing that in my first year being a professional, we are getting all these requests and we are getting our names and faces put out there. It's an amazing thing that's happened, and I think women's soccer has grown so much even in the past two years because of the World Cup and going to the Olympics."
Juggling the off-the-field demands of a famous pro athlete with training and games, Morgan says, is much different than juggling classes, practice and soccer in college.
"It's definitely different to juggle being on top of your game every day on the field and then juggling all the media requests," she said. "There's always a choice. When you're in school, you can't really choose not to go to class for a week. We have more freedom to decide if something's a little too much for us - when we've been doing a little too much off the field, we have to rearrange our priorities more on soccer. Having that freedom, I'm able to manage my schedule where I don't get stressed out or don't get too many requests coming in at once. My agent does a fantastic job at helping lead me through that since it only is my second year of being a professional athlete."
Olympics vs. World Cup
Back on the pitch, Morgan's strong play has earned her a coveted starting role on the national team entering the Olympics. She has scored 17 goals after starting in 12 out of her 15 games so far in 2012.
Given that the World Cup and Olympics are the two top tournaments in women's soccer, Morgan and her teammates have heard the inevitable question comparing the two time and time again.
"The Olympics and the World Cup are two completely different tournaments," she says. "The pinnacle of a soccer player's career is the World Cup. It's the single-largest, one-sport event in the world. The World Cup is so huge everywhere, and millions of people tune in just to watch soccer. It's always such an honor to play for your country in the World Cup.
"At the same time, the Olympics is definitely more about rallying behind your country and going over to the Olympics with hundreds of other athletes to compete for your one sport. And there are 32 other sports that you can support. It's a lot more about pride and the tradition of the Olympics. They're both so separate. Coming off of the World Cup, it's my first Olympics. I want nothing more than to get the Games started and also to be standing at the top of the podium at the end."
The first Olympics she remembers watching came in 2000, when she watched the women's soccer tournament at the Sydney Games. But the 1999 Women's World Cup - whose final was played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. - truly got the southern California product hooked on the U.S. team.
"I was so focused on women's soccer at that point, I just really paid attention to all of the players in 2000," Morgan said. "That was something I felt passionate about after the '99 World Cup, so going into 2000 I paid a lot more attention even though my family has been paying attention to the Olympics every four years since I was a little girl."
Berkeley to Seattle Pipeline
Morgan, 23, has been living the life of a professional athlete since completing her successful Cal career a year and a half ago. When not with the national team, she plays for the Seattle Sounders in the pro-am W-League. Previously she played one season for the Western New York Flash, which selected her No. 1 overall in the 2011 Women's Professional Soccer draft. Morgan joined with Brazilian legend Marta and Canadian star Christine Sinclair to lead the Flash to the 2011 WPS championship, before the suspension of the league paved the way for her move west.
Playing for the Seattle Sounders Women moved Morgan closer to home as well as to boyfriend and fellow Cal alum Servando Carrasco.
"I'm extremely happy playing for the Seattle Sounders and wearing the same jersey as Servando wears," she said. "Being able to attend each other's games - it's great to have that sort of support. It's really great that we could relate to each other, play in the same sport and go through similar things together."
Both Sounder/Bears wrapped up their Cal careers after the 2010 season. A Hermann Trophy finalist, first-team All-American and All-Pac-10 First-Team selection in her senior season, the committed Morgan played in both the NCAA tournament and the USA's crucial World Cup playoff qualifying series with Italy in November of that year. She led the Golden Bears to the NCAA Tournament in each of her four seasons and also led the Bears in points and goals each year. She wound up ranking third in all-time points (107) and tied for third in career goals (45) in school history.
She returned to Berkeley last October to receive her framed NSCAA All-America certificate from Cal head coach Neil McGuire, speak to the Edwards Stadium crowd and sign autographs at halftime of a 2-0 victory over Utah. Morgan looks forward to returning to her old stomping grounds sometime after the Olympics, in part to tour renovated California Memorial Stadium as well as the Simpson Center for Student-Athlete High Performance.
"[The Simpson Center] was under construction my entire career at Cal, so I want to come back and see the new stadium and the new High Performance Center," she said. "I also want to come back for our alumni game; that's going to be this fall. I haven't been able to keep in great contact with a lot of the alumni and current players at Cal because of my extremely busy schedule, but I'm hoping I'll get a chance to come back at least once in the fall to see a couple soccer games and hopefully a football game as well."