Orlando Pride striker Alex Morgan returned to the team’s preseason training this week after spending a couple of weeks winning the SheBelieves Cup with the United States Women’s National Team. Morgan continues to work toward regaining her form following the birth of her daughter last May, a pandemic that wiped out the NWSL regular season, another minor knee injury while on a short-term deal with Tottenham Hotspur, and a bout with COVID-19.
The SheBelieves Cup was a good step toward regaining that form. Morgan was a threat on the pitch during the tournament, although she lacked some sharpness in front of goal before finally scoring in the tournament finale against Argentina. It was a big goal for Morgan, as it was her first in open play in a long time. She scored only from the spot (twice) in four games with Tottenham, did not play with the Pride at all in 2020, and appeared in only six matches with Orlando in 2019 due to international duty and injuries.
After the 6-0 win over Argentina, Morgan mentioned it had been more than 500 days since her last goal, but she was happy to provide some measure of inspiration for women with children who want to have a career in professional sports.
“I’m very excited to get my first goal back with the national team and join the list of moms on the team who have scored goals and played as a national team player,” she said after the win last Wednesday. “I just want to kind of be an example for other female athletes who are moms or want to become moms knowing that they still, you know, belong in the game. After they have kids you can be a mom and still be at the top of your game, so I want to continue to show that and tonight was the first step of that.”
Morgan’s last goal from open play prior to last week’s strike against Argentina came on July 2, 2019 against England, when she scored the game winner in the USWNT’s 2-1 World Cup semifinal victory over England. In club play, you have to go all the way back to the Pride’s 3-1 home loss to the Chicago Red Stars on Aug. 25, 2018, when she scored in the 65th minute to help Orlando avoid a shutout at home.
Marc Skinner has been Morgan’s club team coach for two years and has only had her available to play in six matches, so he must be eager to get her back on the field for meaningful minutes, particularly now that he has a rebuilt midfield that should be able to provide better service to the team’s forwards.
After the Argentina match last week, Morgan shrugged off questions about playing for any club other than Orlando in 2021.
“I will be with Orlando this season,” she said. “Happy to stay here and go through the Challenge Cup, and start the NWSL season.”
How close is Morgan to finding her way back to full fitness and game form? Not far, if the SheBelieves Cup is any indication. She’ll need to be sharper in front of goal, but that will come with more playing time and training with her teammates. Morgan said she thinks she’s almost there.
“I’m feeling pretty good actually physically. I feel like I’m getting my legs underneath me,” she said. “Getting kind of 70 or so minutes (against Brazil on Feb. 21), it was, you know, a transition game, and I felt like at times I was trying to catch my breath, but looking at the numbers, I had a lot of running in that game and I was happy with kind of the way that I’ve progressed.
“I still don’t feel like I’m 100% I feel like I’m 99, or so. I’m getting there. My timing needs to get better. My instincts need to get better, but I think that will come with like a month straight of team training. I really haven’t been in like a team environment since December, and that was only about a month or two months after kind of coming back from a little knee knock. So, I feel good, but I feel like I still have some building blocks to go.”
Skinner will want his star striker to produce some goals for the Pride before once again having to leave the team for international duty, as she’s likely to be included in Vlatko Andonovski’s U.S. squad for the Olympics. The Pride coach is looking forward to have a full complement of attacking players to start the 2021 season, as he finally has some depth and different types of forwards to call upon.
“With Alex coming back and obviously with the ability to use Taylor (Kornieck) and Crystal (Thomas), it gives us much more variance on our team and we can adapt shape as well, so it keeps us, flexible,” he said. “It keeps us not being too predictable for the opposition.”
If Morgan can return to form in 2021, Pride fans might have a lot to cheer about this season, because Skinner and GM Ian Fleming have assembled a much deeper roster this season — one that’s capable of competing for a postseason spot in a year with an expanded NWSL playoff field.