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Alex Morgan has kicked off the 2022 National Women’s Soccer League campaign in remarkable fashion for her new team, the San Diego Wave, leading the league with nine goals in as many games. Following an injury-plagued campaign with the Orlando Pride last year – which marked the third consecutive season in which Orlando failed to qualify for the playoffs – Morgan is having her best start yet, already matching her best NWSL single-season goal tally in 2017.

The 5’7 forward is a veteran of the NWSL, having been one of the original players to join the league in 2013 after Women’s Professional Soccer folded. She’d won club titles with the Western New York Flash and Portland Thorns FC before joining Orlando, with overseas stops at French team Lyon – where she won the European treble – and FA Women’s Super League side Tottenham Hotspur. But after roughly six years in Orlando – during which the team never quite came together enough to secure silverware – she decided it was the right time for a change.

After returning home to California in December, Morgan – who grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles – quickly became the face of the new Wave organization, which currently sits in first place in the NWSL. The establishment of the San Diego side, along with fellow expansion team Angel City FC, in California marked the first time that the Golden State had top-flight professional women’s soccer clubs since Morgan began her professional playing career in 2011. Playing for the Wave means Morgan, who has a two-year-old daughter, can be closer to her family after spending nearly a decade moving around the country and globe.

“I didn’t know if I would ever get that opportunity,” Morgan told The Equalizer in March. “A lot of us really spend some of our year playing where our team is and some of our year living where our significant other is, or our family is. So, for me, on a personal level, to be able to have both of that and be in the city of San Diego — and to make roots and call this home — is something special and something that I have not had as a professional soccer player.”

While she may be settling into a new phase of life with her family, the soon-to-be 33-year-old does not appear to be slowing down on the field. She certainly enjoys playing in front of the San Diego crowd; according to her early season numbers, six of Morgan’s nine goals this season have come at home. The left-footed forward’s stellar start to the season, including her four-goal masterpiece against Gotham FC, earned her recognition as the league’s Player of the Month for April/May. After failing to convert her penalty kick opportunities for Orlando last year, Morgan has bounced back, scoring from the spot in all four attempts so far this season. Even removing her four penalty goals, she’d still be second in the league with five goals – just one behind Portland striker Sophia Smith, who has netted two penalties this season. Morgan is also top three in the league in total shots with 25 and shots on goal with 14.

“She’s leading us on the field, she’s getting in behind, creating chances, tracking back, defending, keeping calm in big moments and overall she’s giving us complete performances which is credit to her,” San Diego Head Coach Casey Stoney said after the team’s 1-1 tie against OL Reign, which saw Morgan score her ninth goal of the season. “Her leadership is helpful especially with having a young team.”

Partly because of Morgan’s experience and veteran leadership, the Wave are unlike most expansion teams in professional sports, which tend to take a couple years to gel and get up to speed. In their first season in the highly competitive NWSL, San Diego is already leading the league and has shown strong grit – even when conceding first in games. However, while the Wave have enjoyed an impressive start to their inaugural season, they remain level on points with the Chicago Red Stars – and Portland, Angel City and Houston are not far behind – with 13 games still to go, setting the stage for a fascinating battle at the top.

This year, one of the world’s best women’s soccer players appears to have a renewed sense of purpose and fight in her. Morgan, who hasn’t played for the U.S. women’s national team since October, has made no secret of her desire to return to the national stage. One of the reasons she cited in her decision to return to Orlando following a brief stint at Tottenham was to get back into top form ahead of competing in the Tokyo Olympics with the U.S.

Morgan ultimately saw limited playing time in Tokyo and missed out on the U.S. SheBelieves Cup roster, bringing into question her future on the USWNT. In recent months, head coach Vlatko Andonovski notably began to shift his focus to the next generation, calling up many of the talented American youngsters it has in its ranks – including Mallory Pugh, Trinity Rodman, Sophia Smith and Catarina Macario – instead of older players like Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press and Tobin Heath.

But her fiery start to the 2022 NWSL campaign appears to have paid off with a spot secured on Andonovski’s 23-player squad for the upcoming CONCACAF women’s championship next month. The tournament, which will run from July 4-18 in Monterrey, Mexico, will serve as qualifying for next year’s World Cup and the 2024 Olympics, making it a pivotal competition for the U.S.

“The thing with Alex is she falls in the group with Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn, who are experienced players who have gone through some tough times – but some great times as well – who knows how to win and how to win under tough circumstances, how to go through adversity,” Andonovski said on Monday.

While Morgan may be approaching the twilight stage of her playing career, she appears determined to build a foundation of success at San Diego and retain a role on the national team ahead of the 2023 World Cup (which could be her last).

Source: https://uproxx.com/sports/alex-morgan-san-diego-nwsl-uswnt/

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