REIMS, France — Lost in the hubbub that ensued Tuesday after the United States women’s national team shattered a World Cup record by beating Thailand 13-0 was the fact that Alex Morgan, the longtime face of the team, scored five of those goals to set a new mark of her own.
Morgan’s five-spot equaled the feat former U.S. captain Michelle Akers accomplished in a single game at the inaugural Women’s World Cup way back in 1991. And while it somehow felt almost like a footnote in a match where the defending champion Americans set a new standard for ruthlessness on the sport’s biggest stage, it shouldn’t — not after a banged-up Morgan managed just one goal during the country’s run to a third world title four years ago in Canada.
“To tie Michelle Akers’ record is obviously incredible,” a beaming Morgan said afterward. “I’m feeling in peak form right now. I feel great.”
It showed. For any striker, goals are like water, like air. They’re necessary to survive. For all the other things Morgan does so well even when she’s not scoring — from serving as a leader off the field to her hold-up play that gets teammates involved — make no mistake: She lives, first and foremost, to finish chances.
Yet Morgan hadn’t been doing much of that in the lead-in to this tournament. Her 302-minute scoring drought en route to France was her third-longest dry spell since early 2015. Defenses will tighten as the USA’s group games get progressively more difficult with Chile and Sweden up next, to say nothing about the do-or-die knockout stage. Morgan knew that overmatched Thailand presented a golden opportunity to kick things off on the right foot.
“I had a personal goal for three,” she said, laughing. ”That was what I was possibly hoping and reaching for.” But five? Five would’ve been absurd. She couldn’t miss on Tuesday, though, with an early conversion ruled offside. And while three of Morgan’s tallies on Tuesday came after the 74th minute, with the Thais already demoralized, it’s not like they came on tap-ins or defensive errors.
“You look at a goal, and you say is that a quality goal?” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “I thought some of Alex’s finishes tonight were world class. And that’s a good feeling. You want your forward to feel that.”
“As a forward, your job is to score goals,” said Carli Lloyd, who scored the final goal herself in stoppage time after entering in the second half. “To bang five in is pretty great.”
Now Morgan is brimming with confidence. That’s bad news for the Americans’ opponents the rest of the way.
“I thought she was tight and tidy in the box, and I think she pulled the trigger well,” Ellis said. “You can see the feeling. That’s the big part of it. 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.”
A game into this World Cup, Morgan is feeling it for sure.
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