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2017 Orlando Pride Season in Review: Alex Morgan

The USWNT star returned to form after Lyon loan spell.

Nick Leyva, The Mane Land

When Alex Morgan agreed to overtures from Olympique Lyonnais to join the French club on loan, it sent many Orlando Pride fans into panic mode. “She’s never coming back,” people said. “We’ll never see her play another game for the Pride.” This was a common pessimistic refrain ringing out all over social media and in the comments section on this site.

It’s understandable that seeing a star like Morgan run off to Europe might fill fans with anxiety, even if she did say she’d be back.

“My decision to play for Lyon was not an easy one, but it is an important step in my evolution as a player,” Morgan said in the club release. “I want to thank the Pride and our incredible fans and community for their continued support. I look forward to returning home this summer as a better player and leader to join my teammates at our new stadium as we compete for a NWSL championship.”

We outlined why the Lyon move might be exactly what Morgan needed to regain her footing after a subpar 2016 NWSL season in which she scored just four goals with one assist in 15 games. Still, there was plenty of reason for fans to be anxious that something bad could happen, particularly given Morgan’s injury history. Those fears seemed to become reality when Morgan returned from France with a hamstring injury.

But in the end, that only delayed Morgan’s return to the Pride lineup. It turned out that she was well worth waiting for, as the U.S. international went on to have an outstanding NWSL season. Her partnership with Marta helped the Pride reach the playoffs for the first time.

Statistical Breakdown

Due to the loan and the hamstring injury, Morgan actually played fewer games for the Pride in 2017 than she did in 2016, appearing in just 13 matches (12 starts) beginning July 1, when she put in a 25-minute shift against the Chicago Red Stars. Morgan played a total of 1,058 minutes in 2017, but in that time she scored nine goals and added four assists on 47 shots (26 on target). Only Marta (65) and Camila (51) attempted more shots for the Pride this season and no one put more on goal. Despite missing nearly half the season, Morgan finished fifth in the NWSL in goals scored, tied for 10th in assists, and tied for sixth in goals + assists.

Her 68% passing rate wasn’t great, but in truth the vast majority of her passes take place in and around the penalty area — the toughest section of the pitch in which to complete passes. Morgan was offside 14 times — most on the team — and committed 13 fouls while drawing 17. She also contributed eight clearances on defense and won 80% of her tackle attempts.

Her goal against FC Kansas City was voted NWSL Goal of the Week for Week 18.

Morgan made the NWSL Team of the Month for August and was also named NWSL Player of the Month for August.

She played the full 90 minutes in the Pride’s playoff game in Portland but was well marked by her former team, attempting just one shot and creating one scoring chance. She completed 68% of her passes in the match, had one tackle, and drew one free kick.

Best Game

Morgan was great in several games but her best came in a 5-0 win over Sky Blue FC on Aug. 12. The team set a club record for goals in a game, with Morgan scoring two of them and assisting on another. She opened the scoring just four minutes in, taking a gorgeous long ball from Marta, deftly touching it past legendary USWNT center back Christie Pearce, and beating goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan to make it 1-0.

Morgan didn’t score it or assist on it, but she was involved in setting up the Pride’s second goal, hustling on a ball over the top from Monica that was headed back to Sheridan by the defense. The goalkeeper spilled it and Morgan was there to collect and drop off for Camila, who danced around multiple defenders to feed Dani Weatherholt for the easy finish. Just after halftime, Morgan made it 3-0 when she made an intelligent run to reward Jasmyne Spencer’s insightful pass and Marta’s hard work to win the ball, slotting home to make it 3-0.

After Marta made it 4-0 off another goalkeeper error, Morgan helped the Brazilian cap the scoring by making what might have been her best pass all season. Her long drive between the center backs left Marta with only the keeper to beat.

It was the game of the season from Morgan, who finished with five shots (four on target), created three chances, completed 82% of her passes, and made one tackle.

2017 Final Grade

The Mane Land staff gave Morgan a composite grade of 8.5 for her standout season. Honestly there aren’t many holes in her game, aside from passing in buildup play, which could be improved upon. She found her scoring boots this season and is tied with Marta as the club’s all-time goal-scoring leader. As with most top strikers, there were a few finishes that probably should have been made but she also scored a few goals she had no business scoring, so that evened out. Her decision to go to France may have cost her the NWSL Golden Boot — although maybe not, given Sam Kerr’s unbelievable season — and could have cost the Pride a home match in the playoffs, but, as there is really no such thing as a perfect 10 of a season, an 8.5 is probably accurate.

2018 Outlook

As a player allocated by the U.S. Soccer Federation, there’s no reason to believe Morgan won’t be back to lead the forward line in 2018. Some have speculated that Orlando City not picking up her husband Servando Carrasco’s contract option means she’ll be looking to play elsewhere but I don’t think so. That was always a possibility of happening given Serva’s backup role with the Lions. And Morgan stated her commitment to the Pride when she announced she wouldn’t be returning on loan to Lyon, as she wanted to focus on winning a championship with Orlando. A determined and in-form Morgan in 2018 could score goals well into double figures and if she can continue building her rapport with Marta and her front line mates — whether second-year player Rachel Hill, Chioma Ubogagu, or Jasmyne Spencer — she just might succeed in bringing the Pride their first championship.

Previous 2017 Player Season in Review Posts (Date Published)