Interview by Emily Cohen
Alex Morgan, at age 22, was the youngest member of the USA's runner-up squad at the 2011 Women’s World Cup, where she scored in the semifinal and final. Three years earlier, in the midst of her college career at Cal, she led the USA to the 2008 U-20 World Cup title. We asked the Southern California product to reflect on her youth soccer days and address some of the key issues facing young soccer players. (Read Part 1 of the interview HERE.)
SOCCER AMERICA: You’ve talked about the pressures high-school soccer players are under to commit early to college. Did that happen to you?
ALEX MORGAN: Yeah, I had to deal with making a decision; they were approaching me to try and make a decision fast because they have to balance how many financial scholarships they give to players and then once they have some players, they have fewer scholarships to find other players. I know what they’re thinking; it’s logical for them to try and recruit as early as possible, but I don’t believe that players need to commit and be pushed in a certain direction when there’s plenty of time to make the decision.
SA: You went to the University of California at Berkeley. Was Cal your first choice? How did you end up at Cal and why did you go there?
ALEX MORGAN: When the recruiting process started, I knew I wanted to stay in California so right away I bypassed the schools that weren’t in California. I was looking at USC, Pepperdine, Cal and Stanford and I went on recruiting visits to those schools. I think Cal fit my personality the best and it was completely different than where I grew up and I definitely wanted a change.
It really came down to USC and Cal and I just felt that Cal was a better fit. I got along with the players well, and with the coaches, which is funny because my entire coaching staff changed by the time I got to Cal. It’s a very recognized public university and I wasn’t just looking at the rankings in soccer, I was looking at the academics. When you’re in soccer, you can’t count on making a living in soccer, so I definitely looked at that with USC and Cal, and I felt Cal was the right decision for me.
SA: When did you commit to Cal?
ALEX MORGAN: I actually committed quite early -- November of my junior year when I was 16 -- but I’m glad I made the right decision. That early, it’s hard to tell where you’ll fit in because it’s two years before you get to college and so much can change in that time. But I made the right decision.
SA: Alex, you are tied for the third all-time scorer in Cal history with 45 goals, and if you hadn’t been called up to the U.S. women’s national team – the youngest player on the current team – in your senior year, you would probably be in first place. Did you always have that striker mentality?
ALEX MORGAN: I know so many people who have played every single position and I wish I could say that, but I’ve been a forward my entire life. I’ve trained to play that position since I was 12 years old and I think it shows now in my playing. I’m not the most technical person but if you get me in front of the goal, I’m going to find the shot and I’m going to get that shot off. And I’m going to find the right angle to score; that’s been my mentality since I was growing up and playing that one position.
SA: You mentioned that one of the reasons going to a university with a strong academic reputation like Cal was important to you, because it’s hard to make a living in women’s soccer. Do you think that will ever change? If so, what do you think it will take?
ALEX MORGAN: I hope so. I think it comes down to keeping this league (the WPS) alive and making it more stable and having more games broadcasted. If people can’t watch you on TV, they’re not going to go search you on the Internet. Most of our games in the WPS aren’t on TV or the Internet; last season, you couldn’t find them anywhere but Twitter.
The WPS has something like 40 players who represented multiple countries in the World Cup and a lot of people have no idea that these athletes were playing in their backyard.
We need to put a lot more effort into the WPS and I definitely have a role in that. As players, I think we have a role in promoting women’s soccer with young girls and parents, showing that there is a league with a lot of quality players.
SA: What about the impact on all those young girls who cheered you on in the World Cup and now see you as their role model?
ALEX MORGAN: If there is no women’s professional league in the U.S. for those young girls to look up to, other than the U.S. women’s national team, what about their future playing professional soccer? What about taking those small steps and then possibly getting yourself into the pool of the national team?
There are a few girls on the U.S. team that made the World Cup roster, and we would have never been given that shot, that opportunity, if there were no WPS. So I definitely hope that the WPS stays alive and becomes a little more stable than it is now. I think that’s the biggest key to having a successful and improving women’s soccer in the U.S. and having those little girls look up to us and see that you can make a living. I think it all starts with keeping it professionally alive in the U.S.
(Emily Cohen is a freelance writer living in Berkeley, Calif. She has been a team manager for her children's soccer, baseball, basketball, and softball teams -- and has a blog at TeamSnap.com.)