Sept. 13, 2010
Alex Morgan Looks to Take Her Place among the World's Elite
By Anna Oleson-Wheeler
Cal Athletic Media Relations
Originally published in the Fall 2010 issue of the Cal Sports Quarterly.
For many, the number 13 conjures images of black cats, full moons and bad luck, but for Alex Morgan, it represents an opportunity and a goal she's pursued since her days running down the pitch with the rest of her recreational league soccer team. Morgan, now in her senior season with the California women's soccer team, selected the superstitious 13 as an age-group player in honor of U.S. Senior National Team star Kristine Lilly. Little did Morgan know that some 11 years later, she would be on that same senior squad with her heroine.
After attending several training camps with the senior team, Morgan made her first appearance with the U.S. national squad this past March in a 1-0 victory against Mexico. Playing in snow - a first for the Americans - Morgan saw a full half of action versus Mexico, playing alongside the players she idolized as a prep.
"Prior to the game against Mexico, [head coach Pia Sundage] told me I was going to see 45 minutes, so I had time to mentally prepare," Morgan said. "We couldn't feel our feel our feet and had trouble anticipating things, so it didn't really feel like a first cap to me."
In May, the Diamond Bar, Calif., native's good luck and athletic talents earned her an invitation to join the team for a game against Germany. In a proverbial clash of the titans, the match pitted the No. 1 team in the world, the United States, against second-ranked Germans. Morgan's mood brightens noticeably when discussing the game, in which she played 26 minutes.
"Going in for the States to play against Germany was a completely different experience than any I've had," Morgan said. "Those games especially made me want to continue to work hard for the team, and to do more. I wish I could have contributed more - like a goal or two - but it was amazing."
While Morgan dons number 20 with the senior team with Lilly still sporting her number 13, Morgan wore 13 when she led the U.S. Under-20 National Team to the gold medal at the 2008 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Chile. She won the Silver Ball as the tournament's second-best player and the Bronze Shoe as the third-leading scorer, in addition to expanding her fan base from America to the world.
"In meeting Alex, you would never know of her fame, success and ability," Cal head coach Neil McGuire said. "She carries herself with great humility and leads her team as a captain the players all look up to."
From her gold in Chile, Morgan made the transition to U-23 team training camps and then the big time with the senior national team. While Morgan has gone toe-to-toe with some of the best players in the country with the Golden Bears and the world with the U-20 team, joining the senior national team intimidated her at first.
"It's surreal playing with these players," Morgan said of senior stars such as Abby Wambach, Christie Rampone, Hope Solo, Shannon Boxx and, of course, Lilly. "Some of them have been playing together for years, but as I come in more and gain more experience, it's been easier. I'm becoming more a part of a family and making friendships that will last a long time."
Nowadays, the pair of Lilly and Morgan, tied together by their number and forward position, jokes about how nervous Morgan was not only meeting Lilly, but then playing alongside her. After Morgan told Lilly that she selected her 13 in her honor, Lilly told Morgan that she would bequeath her jersey number to Morgan upon her retirement.
"I've had 13 since I started playing club soccer, and it may seem like just a number but to me, it's more than that," Morgan said. "Lilly and the others played in the 1999 World Cup, which really opened the doors for women's soccer in the States. I've always looked up to her, Mia Hamm and Joy Fawcett, who I've met before because she's a Cal alum. Meeting all of these players and having Lilly come back into camp and getting to know her, it's all made for a crazy six months."
Morgan noted this summer differed from others because trained with multiple teams, including Cal and the U.S. National Team.
To help her workout regimen, Morgan also spent time practicing with the Golden Bear men's soccer team. Additionally, Morgan and many members of women's side have come to Berkeley earlier than required to condition.
"We have a young team with 11 girls coming in, but there are 22 girls at practice every day to work harder," Morgan said of the self-imposed voluntary sessions.
"We want to work every day to improve so that we can do better in the Pac-10 and the NCAA Tournament. I think this year will be a really good year for us to take it all the way to the end and not slow down as the season progresses."
This fall, Morgan will transition all she has learned while wearing the red, white and blue to the blue and gold of Berkeley.
The 5-7 starter has led Cal in scoring in each of the past three seasons and is fourth on the all-time scoring list with 31 goals coming into her senior campaign. McGuire fully echoes Morgan's sentiments that her time with the national teams has vastly improved her already stellar play.
"Alex continues to grow as a player and has no doubt benefitted greatly from being around some of the best players in the world," McGuire said. "Alex's play is forever evolving as she adds different dimensions to her game."
Not only will this fall be the last for Morgan in a Cal uniform, but it will also be her final semester of school. Morgan took a full load of classes over the summer to ensure she will be set to graduate in December with a degree in political economy.
She selected the major for its emphasis on international relations after she traveled abroad with the Cal squad to Italy, studying in Spain last summer and to multiple countries with Olympic Development Program and national teams. Somewhere down the line, Morgan sees herself earning an MBA and pursuing a career in international business.
Morgan planned her studies carefully to graduate a semester early so she could be free to play professionally in the Women's Professional Soccer league in the spring. In the meantime, you can catch Morgan loping across Goldman Field at Edwards Stadium in her lucky number 13.