Why Alex Morgan was left off the USWNT Olympic roster

Alex Morgan and the United States women’s national team have been synonymous with each other for 14 years. But Wednesday brought news of an abrupt and surprising end to the striker’s run of major tournaments with a team whose standards she helped maintain and whose status she largely elevated.

Morgan was left off USWNT head coach Emma Hayes’ 18-player Olympic roster and is not among the four alternates who will travel to France. Instead, she will watch from afar for the first time since earning her first cap in March 2010 as the USWNT plays in a major tournament. The USWNT last played a major tournament without Morgan at the 2008 Olympics.

It’s not the ending she would have imagined – and perhaps she still hopes it’s not completely the end – but Wednesday’s news is a stark reminder that few athletes can walk away on their own terms. own conditions.

“Today I am disappointed that I will not have the opportunity to represent our country on the Olympic stage,” Morgan said in a statement on her social media accounts. “It will always be a tournament close to my heart and I am extremely proud every time I wear the badge.”

What does Morgan’s omission mean for the USWNT at the Olympics – and beyond?

During a call with reporters Wednesday, Hayes repeatedly emphasized how difficult it is to select just 16 outfield players for an Olympic roster. She praised Morgan both as a person and as a player during the limited time they worked together during the last USWNT camp.

Ultimately, though, Morgan is a rare breed as a number 9 – a pure striker who should be played centrally. For over a decade, the rest of the pieces filled in around her, and her skills, combined with the USWNT’s depth chart, justified it.

However, Morgan turns 35 next week and the USWNT player pool has become younger in recent years as most of Morgan’s peers from the previous generation have retired or left the international game. This USWNT Olympic roster is on average four years younger than the previous Olympics roster three years ago. The group is also brimming with versatility — from the electric Sophia Smith to Morgan’s San Diego Wave teammate, 19-year-old Jaedyn Shaw, who can play anywhere in the top four roles.

Versatility is where Hayes ultimately made his move. The fluidity and precision of the front three of Smith, Mallory Swanson and Trinity Rodman was on full display in the team’s final game, when the trio came off the bench and tortured South Korea’s tired defense : five minutes after their entry, Smith replacing Morgan. up top, Rodman dribbled and found Swanson for a subtle back heel flick to Smith, who finished for a goal.

“Having a roster that can adapt is critical,” Hayes told reporters Wednesday. “We have a tight turnaround between games, so of course having players on the roster that could play more than one position was important for the depth of the team.

“But I also think there are players on the roster in the forward areas who are performing well and the decision to take those players was one that we certainly deliberated over. But I think it’s a balanced list I took into account all the factors that we will need throughout the Olympics, and (the list is) one that I am really happy with.

Morgan has long possessed a more diverse skill set than he is often given credit for. She burst onto the scene in 2010, at the age of 20, with blazing speed to punish defenses. Her play earned her the nickname she was happy to leave behind, “Baby Horse,” and her style was a perfect fit for a straight-playing USWNT. The idea – or sometimes the stigma – that she is simply a fast forward who can run behind has followed her ever since.

Hayes instead chose to rely on a more dynamic group of attackers who were less constrained to traditional roles. Smith will operate as a number 9 who can run behind and hang on to the serve, but she will also drift wide to allow Swanson and Rodman to cut inside and find the ball closer to the net. Shaw can do the same.

All of these players are more creative in dribbling than Morgan, who likes to put the ball at his feet and leave it to combine with his teammates. Hayes’ preferences suggest she envisions a USWNT that will seek to unblock teams on dribbles more frequently than in the past — a criticism she aired publicly about the American style of play before accepting the job.

Morgan nevertheless remains one of the most prolific strikers to have worn the USA jersey – her 224 caps and 123 goals rank her ninth and fifth respectively in USWNT history. She was, and still is, the second player, alongside Mia Hamm, to score 20 goals and 20 assists in one year. For years, his status on the team was unquestioned.

She scored some of the most important goals in team history. His overtime goal in the 2012 Olympic semifinals to beat Canada in a thrilling 4-3 game remains one of the most iconic in U.S. history. His goal against England in the 2019 World Cup semi-final is another highlight.

Her play in that 2019 tournament is most widely remembered for her tea-sipping celebration that caused a stir in England, but it was the dirty work she did beyond scoring that the USWNT needed . It was the team’s back-to-goal, goal-scoring Alex Morgan who defined the evolution of his game. It was part of how the Americans cruised to a victory over Spain in the round of 16 in 2019 .



Kassouf: Morgan’s absence from Olympics is Hayes’ ‘big decision’

Jeff Kassouf reacts to the news that Alex Morgan will not be part of the USWNT Olympic roster in Paris.

Lately, however, her position within the USWNT has been challenged more frequently, but each time she has responded.

Former USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski attempted to rebuild the team in 2022 and considered Catarina Macario as the new No. 9. That plan, which saw Morgan left off rosters earlier this year, was disrupted when Macario tore an ACL.

Morgan returned to the national team for the 2022 World Cup/Olympics qualifiers, where she won the Golden Ball. She also responded with the best season of her club career in 2022, scoring 15 goals to win the Golden Boot. Any idea of ​​a national team without her was quickly forgotten.

Morgan retained her starting role for the 2023 World Cup despite doubts about her play, and while her performance was forgettable – she didn’t score in that tournament – ​​the USWNT was mediocre throughout, and the The team’s problems ran deeper than any single player. .

Hayes’ arrival as head coach always seemed to bring significant changes. Hayes is a great personality who doesn’t let difficult decisions get discouraged, with a track record to back it up. Morgan was left out of the team’s initial roster for the Concacaf W Gold Cup in February, with new Hayes still half removed from the squad as she finished coaching Chelsea. But Morgan rejoined the team following an injury to Mia Fishel and quickly took over the starting No. 9 role in this tournament.

Maybe that’s why Wednesday was so shocking. Morgan’s place on this team has been pointedly called into question over the past two years, and each time, she has answered the call with a reminder of how good she is.

His form with the San Diego Wave this season – zero goals in eight games – came at the wrong time for this Olympic selection. It’s also more indicative of a broader problem with the Wave, who went from winning the Shield last year to being winless in seven games. Wave coach Casey Stoney was fired earlier this week.

Sophia Smith has always looked like the future No. 9 in the USWNT, and her recent Golden Boot Award, MVP trophy, and NWSL championship made a compelling case that she should be the No. 9 more immediately. Now she is. Hayes will likely play Swanson and Rodman alongside Smith on the front line, relying on their chemistry together to confuse opposing defenses. Shaw, Macario and Crystal Dunn – listed as forwards – add depth at various positions.

Morgan has six career Olympic goals, and no player who has made the Olympic roster has more than one.

She was the last one standing of her generation in the USWNT, the group that won back-to-back World Cups and captured the attention of a nation while fighting for equal pay. Megan Rapinoe’s retirement last year and former captain Becky Sauerbrunn’s quiet departure after missing the 2023 World Cup due to injury created a notable shift from the USWNT’s experienced and outspoken leaders . Hayes says she loves developing leaders – and she’ll need that in France.

After years of Morgan having to force her way back into the team every time she was left out, it now seems like an insurmountable task three years before the next World Cup. Instead, it looks like a difficult end to one of the richest careers in USWNT history. For this reason, this move can only be considered a surprise, despite questions surrounding the versatility of this roster.

But that’s also the sad reality of the job, even for the legends who make it up. Missing that Olympic team won’t take away from her two World Cup titles and Olympic gold medal, but it doesn’t make this apparent end to Morgan’s time with the USWNT any less harsh.

As Rapinoe said last year, moments after her final match ended with a torn Achilles early in her team’s NWSL championship loss: “You don’t always get a perfect ending.”

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