U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM PHENOM ALEX MORGAN TALKS ABOUT THE UPCOMING WORLD CUP & CAL SOUTH ODP
June 09, 2011
A CALSOUTH.COM EXCLUSIVE: AN INTERVIEW WITH U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM PHENOM ALEX MORGAN
Interview conducted by Joe Curley
Playing in Cal South's Olympic Development Program helped mold Alex Morgan from a multi-sport childhood into one of the top young strikers in the world. The Diamond Bar native and former Cal star, who scored a vital last-minute strike in the U.S.women's national soccer team's qualifying win in Italy last November, will be a key up front for the Americans this summer in Germany.
Cal South: What was your early involvement in the game? How did you start playing soccer and when did you know you could really play it?
Alex Morgan: I grew up in Diamond Bar, in Southern California. I started in AYSO. I tried a lot of different sports. When I was around 13 years old, I was heading into high school the next year, I kind of decided that soccer was my thing. I was actually pretty good at it, better than softball and basketball, I kind of narrowed it down and started to play club soccer when I was 14 years old, which is a little late.
CS: Wow, why did you wait until 14?
AM: I knew girls who had taken the leap and had gone to club teams a lot earlier, when they were 10, 11, 12. I just felt like still having fun with soccer and other sports. I didn't want to take such a big commitment on myself, you know? It was a real big commitment to jump from AYSO to club, so I kind of waited until I knew youth soccer was the sport I wanted to pursue.
CS: How did your soccer experience change from there?
AM: I actually had my first ODP camp on a weekend about six months after I started club. It was quite fast moving after I started club. I was happy and content with that because I was ready to make that leap and commit myself to soccer. So I was really excited by the call. It only helped improve my game.
CS: What are you memories of playing in Cal South ODP? How did it affect your development as a player?
AM: Being a young player, it opened my eyes to the game. It helped me learn a lot about myself, about confidence and having a positive attitude. AYSO and playing recreational sports were all fun, but once you got into the higher level of competition, it was a lot more stressful at times. Having to deal with that, dealing with my social life and my homework and school, because ODP took up a lot of time on the weekends, it helped me balance my time a lot better. On the field, the best girls in Southern California were coming together to play, so my game improved every time I played with them, from my touch to my finishing to reading the game.
CS: Being a late bloomer, how do you think your development differed from other teammates?
AM: I wouldn't say "late bloomer." I think I was just having fun playing multiple sports. I was always athletic from a young age. I never wanted to narrow it down to one sport. My parents never pressured me into anything, you know? I loved going from soccer to basketball practice to softball to track. I really enjoyed that and I didn't want to take that next step until I was ready. I've seen a lot of girls who
were burned out by the time they got to college and I didn't want to be one of those girls who was sick of what they were doing by the time they were 18 because I was playing competitively since the age of 8.
CS: What are your fondest memories as a club player in youth soccer? Do you still keep in contact with any of your old teammates?
AM: I think that's one of the biggest parts of youth soccer is creating relationships with your teammates. Playing club soccer, I still keep in touch with a lot of my teammates. Some are still my best friends, who I call every week. That was one important thing. When I was younger, I think a lot of my memories include being able to have fun on the weekends and then go to school. That was one thing for me.
CS: What do you think played an important role in your development as a player?
AM: How I developed was through my parents learning about the game. My dad knew nothing about soccer. He didn't even want me to play soccer.
CS: So your father (Mike Morgan) had a big impact?
AM: Hands down, I think that is the reason I am so poised in and around the box today. That was one thing I worked day and day out.
CS: How has your life changed since graduating from school?
AM: I think that my life is a lot different. I'm traveling a lot more with the National Team and trying to balance my personal life with my soccer life. Also, I think that in the past few months since I've been traveling with the National Team more consistently, it's more important to take the recovery methods more seriously. In college, you travel and hour here or there, but I never took care of my body as much as I do now. Twelve hours a day helps my body recover and rest up for the next day of training. Just eating right, ice baths, compression, hydrating... every little step is so important for me.
CS: One of the issues facing the US Women's Soccer program is the development of elite players beyond their teens. Do you think there is more talent out there than places in WPS?
AM: Yeah, definitely. There's only so many spots on six teams in this league and you can already see from starting the league that some players have come into the national pool that weren't given a chance until they were seen by the coaching staff after playing in the league. Just from personal experience, there were some girls at Cal that would have loved to play professional soccer if there were more spots on teams. They're definitely good enough to play in a professional league, but, with the amount of spots and the instability of the league, players have maybe been turned away from taking that next step after college. I 100 percent agree with that. Even with me, I did start club late, if I didn't show that much improvement until the last year of college, maybe I wouldn't have gotten that look from the National Team coaching staff. That's crucial. We do have a lot of talented players who don't go much further than college.
CS: We're coming up on 12 years since the "golden summer" of 1999. What are your memories of that team, that World Cup and what type of effect did it have on you as a soccer player?
AM: First of all, women's soccer gained so much recognition, people actually started to pay attention. I have to say I started to pay attention a lot more. That made me want to watch soccer a lot more. That made me want to wear No. 13 because of Kristine Lilly and follow the national team a lot more. I think that '99 World Cup was so important for not only women's soccer but women's sports in America, in general.
CS: Do you think, more than a decade later, that that team still affects the public's expectations of the U.S. Women's National Team?
AM: I think we're put in a difficult position because in '99 there were only a few powerhouses in women's soccer. Now the women's game has evolved so much in the world. There are teams in the world cup who are making it for their first time and they're doing great. I think the standard of women's soccer has been raised. We're put in a difficult position because every time people think of women's soccer now they look back at '99 and expect us to be that powerhouse and fight through and win every game. Now every team has raised their level and put more focus into their women's program.
CS: The qualifying loss to Mexico and recent friendly loss to England were the source of some worry over the team recently. Do you think those bumps in the road were just bad days for the team or a sign that the game has become more competitive worldwide?
AM: I think it's a little bit of both. I love being with the U.S. team on the road, playing anyone, any team. They're going to play their best and fight to the end. We are ranked No. 1 right now. Everyone wants to play the No. 1 ranked team in the world. They're going to put their best players out and fight to the end.
CS: Is your life just different during a World Cup year? What are your emotions looking ahead to potentially representing your country again on the world stage?
AM: So far it's been a lot of work. It hasn't been easy at all. It's been tough on our bodies and tough emotionally. We're working towards that ultimate goal. We haven't won the World Cup since '99. We really try to do everything we can to be at our peak during the World Cup. So far it's been great. I love being with the National Team, whether in England, Portugal or in the U.S. It hasn't always been easy. Our bodies have taken a toll a little bit.
Cal South Soccer Magazine correspondent Joe Curley also covers soccer for the Ventura County Star and the Scripps Howard News Service. Joe lives in Camarillo with his wife, Rian, and daughter, Vivienne.