It appears that this may finally be Alex Morgan’s World Cup.
The star U.S. striker is taking part in her third tournament, but for the first time she is healthy, in form, in her prime, and ready to be the difference-maker on a winning team.
To say Morgan laid down a marker in the USWNT’s opening match would be an understatement.
The 29-year-old was in breath-taking form against Thailand in Reims, scoring a remarkable five goals in her team’s 13-0 demolition of their overmatched opponents.
Say what you will about the caliber of the USWNT’s opposition on Tuesday but some of Morgan’s goals would’ve been head-turners no matter who the U.S. was playing.
“For Alex tonight, I thought she was tight and tidy in the box and she pulled the trigger well and there were some world-class finishes,” U.S. head coach Jill Ellis said after the game.
In particular, Morgan’s third – a quick turn and unerring finish into the corner from 15 yards out – and her fifth – a flick past her defender and a half-volley hit with some venom – were the strikes of a world-class forward full of confidence.
“I’m feeling in peak form right now,” Morgan, who tied a World Cup record for most goals in a game, said afterwards.
“To tie Michelle Akers’ record is obviously incredible but just even more than that I think this was a great team performance for us. We were able to execute on so many chances that we had and we showed just how diverse our attack really is.”
In addition to making her the clear front-runner for the Golden Boot after just one game (Celia Sasic and Carli Lloyd tied for the most goals at the 2015 tournament with six), Morgan’s outburst showed that this World Cup may be her moment in the sun after two straight tournaments on the periphery.
In 2011, Morgan was the youngest player on the team and didn't start a game the entire World Cup. She did, however, announce herself when she came off the bench to score a goal in both the semi-final and final, with an assist in extra time of the final as well.
Four years later, Morgan battled a knee injury throughout the tournament and played a supporting role in her team’s World Cup title, ending the competition with just one goal.
This time around, Morgan’s team-mates have seen a player in recent weeks who is determined to be center stage.
“I think in her mind she had it set she was going to score some good goals,” U.S. defender/midfielder Julie Ertz said.
“I’ve seen it in training, it’s no different. I don’t want to say I was surprised because I wasn’t. I’ve been training with her every day, I’ve been defending her every day and tonight was amazing.”
For a striker, confidence is paramount. The effects of Morgan’s five-goal performance could linger long beyond the USWNT’s tournament opener. For opponents, that is a scary prospect indeed.
“You can see the feeling, that’s the big part of it,” Ellis said. “You want to have that feeling. It’s a self-belief, it’s a confidence, it’s an energy – call it whatever you want but goal-scorers have to feel that.
“When you have a deluge of goals like that it’s a good feeling and it boosts the confidence.”
That confidence was apparent after the game. When asked if she could have ever dreamed of scoring five goals in the World Cup opener Morgan said she had a more modest, if still lofty objective in mind heading into the game.
“I had a personal goal for three.”