Monday, May 20, 2024

Will Alex Morgan Be on the U.S. Soccer Roster for the Olympics?

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Alex Morgan is on the bubble.

Some media experts believe the former Cal star will be on the United States’ roster for the Olympics; others think she won’t.  But they agree that Morgan is on the borderline, and may be the toughest decision coach Emma Hayes has to make.

And it is Hayes’ team now.   When the U.S. Women’s National Team takes the field for its next tuneup match against South Korea on June 1, Hayes will be the head coach, not interim head coach Twila Kilgore, who shepherded the team through the Concacaf Gold Cup and the SheBelieves Cup. The United States won both those events on home grounds but not in dominating fashion.

Several perspectives are working with regard to Morgan’s possible inclusion on the U.S. squad that will travel to Paris and play its first match in the Olympics group stage against Zambia on July 25.

First of all, the Olympic roster will be limited to 18 players, not 23 as was the case for the Concacaf Gold Cup and the SheBelieves Cup.  And with Catarina Macario and Mal Swanson getting increased playing time as they recover from serious injuries, that limitation is squeezed further.

There are contrasting ways to look at Morgan’s chances based on recent history. Each fact seems to have a countering aspect.

—Morgan was initially left off the U.S. roster for the Concacaf Gold Cup, suggesting Kilgore and Hayes were intent on rebuilding the team with a youth movement, meaning players like the 34-year-old Morgan were expendable.

However, Morgan was added to the U.S. roster for the Gold Cup as an injury replacement one day before the start of the Gold Cup competition. She quickly became a starter for the rest of the event and performed well, raising the debate of whether she would be on the Olympic team.

—Morgan has been in the starting lineup as the Americans’ striker in each of the past seven matches, scoring two goals in the process, leading to the conclusion that Morgan is very much in Hayes’ plans for the immediate future.

However, perhaps Hayes and Kilgore were merely taking a long, hard look at how Morgan worked with the young players, evaluating whether she fits with the players around her.

—Morgan scored two goals in the eight games of the past two events, and how can you dismiss a player who has scored 123 international goals, the eighth-most of any women’s player in history.

However, one of those two goals was on a penalty kick, and Morgan did not score a goal in any the past six games when the competition was stiffer.

—Morgan’s experience would seem to be valuable on a team loaded with players less experienced in international play.  Plus Hayes said when she was hired that she thought the U.S. players lacked technical skills. Morgan provides that too.

However, a lack of team chemistry was seen as the USWNT’s biggest shortcoming in last year’s World Cup, when the Americans lost to Sweden in the round of 16. Does Morgan fit with this group? Assessments are mixed based on Morgan’s work in the past two events.

—Morgan may be the logical choice as the USWNT’s No. 9 based on her history and the U.S. team’s personnel.

However, Sophia Smith, who has been forced to move to a wing to accommodate Morgan, assumed the No. 9 role after Morgan was replaced in the second half of the SheBelieves Cup finals against Canada. Smith is more comfortable at that position, which is where she plays with the Portland Thorns of the National Women’s Soccer League, and she showed her competence in that role by scoring a beautiful go-ahead goal against Canada.  Could Smith replace Morgan as the Americans’ No. 9?

So what will determine whether Morgan is named to the Americans’ Olympic roster?

The two matches against South Korea – June 1 at Commerce City, Colorado, and June 4 in St. Paul, Minnesota – will tell us a lot. Hayes will be in charge in those matches, and if Morgan plays and is productive, it will help her chances, because the Olympic team roster will be announced before its subsequent tuneup match on July 13 against Mexico in Harrison, New Jersey. (The USWNT will play one more tuneup match after that, but the opponent, date and venue have not been set.) If Morgan does not play against South Korea or does nothing to aid the attack, her chance of going to Paris is diminished.

Also worth paying attention to is Morgan’s performance with San Diego Wave FC over the next few weeks.  She had one assist and no goals in San Diego’s first two games in the NWSL season, but the Wave plays eight games between now and the June 1 game against South Korea. Some of those games will be played before the roster for the June 1 match is announced, and if Morgan can demonstrate she can still score goals, it may be difficult to keep her off the USWNT roster.

In any case, Hayes and her advisers face a tough decision regarding Morgan.

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