Interview by Mike Woitalla
Since debuting for the USA in 2010, Alex Morgan has 44 goals and 29 assists in 70 games, and she helped the USA to its 2012 Olympic gold medal. We spoke to the 24-year-old Southern California product, who plays for the NWSL's Portland Thorns FC, about life as a pro athlete and celebrity, her youth soccer experience, advice for aspiring players, and the kind of soccer she likes to watch.
SOCCER AMERICA: When you were a kid, did you dream about becoming a pro soccer player and celebrity?
ALEX MORGAN: [Laughs] Celebrity, no. Professional soccer player, definitely. I didn’t know there were a lot of other responsibilities that come along with being a professional soccer player, but when I was 7 or 8 years old I remember writing a note to my mom that when I grow up I want to become a professional soccer player. That was my dream and I stuck to it.
SA: What helped inspire that dream?
ALEX MORGAN: When I was 9 the Women’s World Cup was going on. … Kristine Lilly is a big reason I wear No. 13 today. Mia Hamm was obviously one of the most popular players. … But I just loved the game of soccer. I played all sorts of sports growing up but soccer I was just drawn to immediately. That was the sport I had the most fun with.
SA: So how do you like it now that you’ve become a professional athlete?
ALEX MORGAN: I love the fact that I can go onto the soccer field and do what I love everyday -- and make a living at it. And I like that I can make an impact on the young girls who want to become professional athletes in 10-15 years, because I was one of those young girls.
SA: Did you watch a lot of soccer growing up?
ALEX MORGAN: I watched a lot of women’s national team games and went to a lot of games. With the WUSA and WPS, my mom was always a supporter and got season tickets and I’d go with my mom in L.A. When I got to college, I branched out and started watching EPL and La Liga, men's soccer, and obviously WPS.
SA: With all the soccer out there, what do you enjoy watching most when you have a choice?
ALEX MORGAN: I love watching women’s soccer, so whenever there’s a women’s game on, college or NWSL, I put that on first. But I really enjoy watching the Champions League, which I think is the highest quality you’re going to get.
SA: Is there any particular style of soccer you like watching?
ALEX MORGAN: I like Barcelona because they’re one of the most technical teams I’ve ever seen. I love the way they play one-, two-touch and they’re supporting each other so much. When they lose the ball, they really work hard to win the ball back in the first five seconds. I enjoy their style of play. It’s fun to watch them.
SA: Is there anything you remember about the coaching you got during your youth days that you think was especially important to your success?
ALEX MORGAN: I was pretty much with the same club team [Cypress FC Elite] from age 14 through when I went to college and I still keep in close contact with those coaches, because they really helped me become the player I am. Not only during practice, but they worked with me before and after training, whenever I wanted extra shooting or speed and agility work.
Not only with them, but with my dad as well. My dad bought one of the full-size nets you can build on your own, because there weren’t full-size goals for kids to shoot on where I grew up. My dad would set up the goal three times a week and I’d shot on him for about an hour three times a week.
SA: Besides practicing your shooting so much, what else do you think contributed to you becoming such a high scorer?
ALEX MORGAN: Making the drills realistic. To play a lot. To play games. To get competition. That’s why I’m promoting the Copa Coca-Cola -- a nationwide youth tournament that gives an opportunity to teenagers play games, and registration is free.
SA: What about the pressure of being a goalscorer? Even if you have a good game, you’re mostly going to be judged on whether you scored or not.
ALEX MORGAN: Our job as forwards is to score. When you don’t for a couple games, people notice because they expect you to score. So I put a lot of pressure on myself. As a forward you take on that pressure and enjoy it or else you wouldn’t last as a forward.
SA: What advice do you have for young players striving to succeed at the higher levels?
ALEX MORGAN: I want young girls and boys to enjoy playing the game. Build friendships. Soccer really helped build my character on and off the field. Whenever I can promote playing soccer and getting out in the community and living an active lifestyle I’m for that.
SA: At this point in your career, do you still think about improving parts of your game? Do you analyze your own play?
ALEX MORGAN: I set goals for myself every month, specific things I want to work on each month. I go out by myself, or with teammates after training and do specific shooting drills, long balls, one-v-one -- whatever it is I need to work on. As a soccer player I’m always developing and continuing to improve myself. I definitely don’t think I’ve reached my potential.
SA: Do you see yourself becoming a coach after your playing career?
ALEX MORGAN: I really have no idea. I enjoy putting on camps or clinics, but as for now I just hope I have a long career on the soccer field before I do something else.
Alex Morgan is the spokewoman for Copa Coca-Cola, a free tournament for more than 4,000 teens ages of 13 and 15 in 10 U.S. cities: Los Angeles, San Jose, Seattle, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta and New York.
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, is co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper and co-author with Claudio Reyna of More Than Goals: The Journey from Backyard Games to World Cup Competition. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)