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Brian hitting her stride in the Tournament of Nations

After the struggles of Rio in 2016 and injuries in 2017, USWNT midfielder Morgan Brian is ready to get back on track with her promising career at the Tournament of Nations. ASN's John Halloran caught up with the Georgia native after the Yanks' 4-2 win over Japan
BY John Halloran Posted
July 28, 2018
11:00 AM
Kansas City, Kansas – When Morgan Brian played a pivotal role in helping the United States women’s national team win the World Cup in 2015, she was only 22 years old.

By now, the story is well-known. After slogging through the group stage and the Round of 16, an untimely suspension led to Brian getting a chance to start for the U.S. in the quarterfinals. As a result, the American midfield sprung to life and the Yanks won their final three games on the way to a world championship.

But achieving a lifelong dream at 22 can be a double-edged sword. Most people never fulfill those types of dreams and, if they do, certainly not at such a young age. And once someone has achieved the pinnacle of their career at a time when most people are still trying to decide what to do with their lives, what comes next?

For Brian, a number of hurdles have presented themselves since the summer of 2015. The U.S. struggled at the Rio Olympics in 2016, bowing out in the quarterfinal round. Then, in 2017, came an injury and a trade at the club level. In 2018, there was a move abroad, more injuries, and only a few months later, a move back to U.S. shores.

“It was a blessing to [win the World Cup] at such a young age, but obviously, at that point I was 22, so I feel like I had my whole career ahead of me at that point,” said Brian, speaking to the media after the Americans’ 4-2 win over Japan on Thursday.

“I’ve learned a lot in the past three years about myself, on and off the field.”

Last fall, the Houston Dash traded Brian to the Chicago Red Stars late in the NWSL season. Brian had struggled to stay healthy throughout the season and Chicago picked up the talented midfielder for a bargain price.

Then, in January, Brian moved abroad to French powerhouse Olympique Lyon. But while her new squad would go on to win a league and Champions League title in the spring, Brian played a minor role, only earning four league appearances and not playing a single minute in the Champions League.

That led Brian to return to Chicago in June, despite having originally signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with Lyon.

Still, Brian focuses on the positive when reflecting on her time abroad.

“I think it was a great life experience living overseas—experiencing a different culture and everything,” she said. “But, obviously, at the end of the day, we’re competitors. We want to play and I wasn’t playing. So, for me, I wanted to come back because of that.”

With competition for spots on the U.S. team at a premium only 10 months away from next summer’s World Cup and qualifying taking place this October, Brian also admits that she needed to get regular minutes at the club level to stay in the fight for a roster spot with the Americans.

“The coaching staff wants to see all their players playing and, obviously, from a personal standpoint, I want to play minutes and I feel like I need to be able to do that in order to make the qualifying roster,” she explained.

“For me, I thought it was the best decision to put myself in a place where I knew I could get minutes.”

Back in Chicago, Brian has steadily increased her workload over the past few weeks and put in her first 90-minute shift of the NWSL season two weeks ago.

The Georgia native noted that she’s been progressing well over the past month with her club and U.S. head coach Jill Ellis praised Brian’s work in camp this week with the Americans.

“Mo’s had a good week, a really good week of training,” said Ellis. “She’s just working her way back to full capacity, but I’m really pleased with the path she’s on at this point.”

On Thursday, Brian earned the start for the U.S. and came off at halftime—a planned substitution that Ellis said was designed to help her midfielder get used to the rigors of the international game again.

Brian, for her part, admits that her recent fitness issues have been hard.

“If you ask any athlete if they get injured, there’s a lot of mental challenges and it’s pretty difficult to be injured and be taken away from the sport you love to play,” she said. “Of course, the past year and a half has been very mentally challenging, but I think, obviously, when you’re injured, that’s the part you try to get over the most and you push yourself and bounce back. I feel like I’ve tried to do that.”

The midfielder also feels like she’s “hitting her stride at this point” and has one simple goal for the U.S. in its next two games in the Tournament in Nations.

“To win.”

John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.

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