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Women's World Cup: Alex Morgan embraces different role for US team

Helene Elliott, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Soccer

LYON, France -- Alex Morgan stood on the pitch at the Stade de Lyon with her teammates and closed her eyes for a few moments to be alone with her thoughts.

The U.S. women's World Cup team was taking its stadium familiarization session, a chance given to each squad to get a feel for its surroundings before a match -- in this case, the Americans' semifinal against England on Tuesday. But Morgan needed no familiarization or directions. She had played there for Olympique Lyonnais in 2017, a six-month journey that tested her self-reliance and accelerated her growth toward becoming a multidimensional player.

Retracing her stops around Lyon on Sunday morning reminded her of what she had accomplished here and increased her appreciation for returning on such a splendid occasion.

"Just coming to the city made me so happy," she said. "Being at the stadium for the first time in two years brings back such great memories, so I'm really excited to see a full stadium for the game. It's great to be back here.

"This city is beautiful and one that I spent a lot of time in alone, by myself, because I didn't have my husband (Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Servando Carrasco) and was new to the team. Being able to explore was, I think, a good emotional break from soccer for an hour. It just helped me remember some of the important times of how I progressed my game and was able to evolve as a player."

Morgan, who will be 30 on Tuesday, shares the tournament goal-scoring lead with teammate Megan Rapinoe, England's Ellen White and Australia's Sam Kerr, with five each. Morgan scored all of her goals in the U.S. team's 13-0 rout of Thailand in their World Cup opener, but she has not been silent since then.

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Despite absorbing constant elbows, tugs, shoves, kicks to the shins and other indignities committed against a striker of her ability -- she has suffered eight fouls, according to official statistics, and has shown signs of an ankle problem -- she has excelled while taking on different responsibilities. She shrugged off the intense physicality, especially in the past two games, as merely part of the territory.

"In general our team has been able to adapt to what the game has given us and that includes myself," she said. "I've been given different roles within the team, defensively and on the attacking side. All I would like to do is be able to execute that, and I think that I have."

Against Spain in the round of 16 and against France in the quarterfinal she had more defensive duties than usual and also became a facilitator, making the pass to Tobin Heath that Heath fed to Rapinoe for the U.S. team's second goal against France. If it were hockey, Morgan would have gotten the second assist.

"I think Alex has a balance in her game in terms of penetration and being able to, like she did in the France game, be more of a player that could hold the ball up for us, and that's tough," U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. "Sometimes you get one or the other and I think Alex has worked on that and has that balance.

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