U.S. Women's Team
Alex Morgan Is Back and Focused on 2015 World Cup
Alex Morgan has been out of action for more than six months due to injury, but now she's back and focused on helping the U.S. women qualify for the 2015 World Cup. Morgan spoke with ASN's John D. Halloran.
BY John D. Halloran PostedWHILE MOST U.S. SOCCER FANS are currently fully focused on the U.S. men's team and their pursuit of World Cup glory, the U.S. women are also preparing for a World Cup—with the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament to take place just four months from now. In preparation for qualification, the women are set to play France in two friendlies over the next week, this Saturday and then again next Thursday. The two matches will be an important benchmark for the team under new head coach Jill Ellis (both games kickoff at 7:30 ET and will be broadcast via livestream at ussoccer.com). Since winning Olympic gold in 2012, things haven't exactly been smooth sailing for the U.S. women. They've endured two coaching changes and finished seventh at this year's Algarve Cup, dropping matches to both Sweden and Denmark in the process. They've also been beset by injuries, including one to superstar Alex Morgan. Last October while practicing with the national team, Morgan suffered what she thought was just a routine ankle sprain. But as she tried to play through the injury on both the club and international level, it eventually developed into a stress reaction—an injury that would keep her off the field for the next seven months. This weekend, Morgan returned to action in a 90-minute effort for her club, the Portland Thorns, and is now back with the national team in preparation for their matches against France. American Soccer Now's John D. Halloran caught up with Morgan on Thursday night. American Soccer Now: You're back in full training with the national team for the first time in over six months. What's that been like? Alex Morgan: There's definitely another speed I need to get to. I realize I still need to gain game fitness which I'll hopefully gain with these next few games against France. Mostly, it's just great to be back in with the girls because my teammates are my really good friends. Now, having Jill coaching us, it's just great to be back in full preparation leading up to the World Cup qualifiers. ASN: Has it been hard to watch the national team play without you? Morgan: Honestly, it has been really hard. It is hard watching, especially on TV because I wasn't able to come [into camp] and be with them. It definitely motivated me to get my [rehab] done off the field. ASN: There's quite a bit of competition up top between you, Abby Wambach, Sydney Leroux, Christen Press, Amy Rodriguez and a report out today that Ellis wants to look at Kelley O'Hara at forward. Has that been a motivator as well? Morgan: There's so many forwards in camp. It's such great competition. For me, coming back from an injury, it's great to see so many forwards in camp, so many people fighting for spots on the team leading up to the World Cup qualifiers. It definitely motivates me to get back into [my pre-injury] form. I need to do whatever I can to get back into shape. ASN: You went 90 minutes last weekend for the Thorns. Does that mean, at least in terms of your injury, you're back to 100%? Morgan: With my injury, I don't feel it anymore. I'm fully back to 100%. Ninety minutes was, if you watched the game, a little much for me in terms of game fitness. But I feel like the first 70-75 minutes, I did well for my first game back. My shots and finishing were not as crisp as they were before the injury, but that will come with more practice and games. I'm not too worried about it. I'm just excited to get back on the field and get my speed and my technical ability back. ASN: Since you've been out, there have been quite a few changes with the national team. What did you make of the coaching change in April? Morgan: Jill's a great coach and we're looking forward to having her lead us into the World Cup. It was a sudden change with U.S. Soccer letting Tom [Sermanni] go. At the same time, there were different visions between Tom and the rest of the team. We're really excited to have Jill's official first camp as head coach. Leading up to the World Cup qualifiers, there's not much time and we have less than 365 days to the opening of the  World Cup. For us, there's no more room for error. ASN: For the last two games, the U.S. has come out in a 4-3-3. Is that something we'll see on Saturday against France? Morgan: Jill is definitely trying to implement the style that she wants us to play. I'm not sure what we'll come out with on Saturday. Looking forward, it's going to be about playing with a formation that we can put out there in October in World Cup qualifying. I think Jill is trying to see what personalities fit what formation the best. ASN: Do you personally like a three-forward system for the U.S.? Morgan: I haven't played a three-front system that often with the U.S. Obviously, we've been 4-4-2 for quite awhile on the U.S. team. Transitioning and practicing with a three-front over the past couple days, I really feel that there's pros and cons. Obviously, forwards don't love to defend. Defending for most of a game tires you out in your attack. For me, it's a balance of being attacking-minded for the outside backs and for the forwards and making sure that we have accountability. It's a formation that every player on the field need to understand more than a traditional 4-4-2. ASN: You're not the only one back in camp after a long break. Shannon Boxx is also back in camp. What has it been like having her back with the team? Morgan: It's great having Boxxy back. She's been out for awhile. She was someone we could look towards in a game to make that tackle, to get us going. It's great to see her back on the pitch. She was in Portland and trained with [the Thorns] for a day or two. It's still going to be a couple more weeks before we see her back on the field in a game. I hope she gains back that fitness and gets right [back] where she left off. I'm really excited to see her continue to do more with us. ASN: Between you, Tobin Heath, and Kelley O'Hara, the U.S. has seemed to have a bad injury streak over the past year, but now everyone seems to be returning to full fitness at the right time. Do you feel like the team will be able to hit its full stride by October for World Cup qualifying? Morgan: There's never a good time for injuries, but if there was one, it was when everyone was injured. Obviously, we still have Megan Rapinoe rehabbing her foot and Crystal Dunn with a hamstring tweak, but we have a lot of players getting back into their true form and it's great seeing that in preparation for World Cup qualifying. This year and into next year is the most important time for us to take care of our bodies and everyone is really conscious of that. That's part of the reason why I got so many second opinions on my ankle. I wanted to make sure that I didn't step on the field until I was 100% and didn't feel any [pain] in my ankle. I think everyone was really smart with their injuries keeping in mind that we have a big year coming up. ASN: Did you watch the men's World Cup game between Croatia and Brazil? Did you think [Brazil's penalty] was a foul? Morgan: I did not think it was a PK at all. I think the ref got it wrong. The refs were a little shaky their first game. John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.
June 13, 2014
June 13, 2014