LYON, France — Just 30 years old, Alex Morgan will play in her third Women’s World Cup final on Sunday (11 a.m. ET) against the Netherlands.
In 2011, she was a second-half substitute in a loss to Japan. Four years later she was part of an American barrage, powered by a Carli Lloyd hat trick, that won the rematch 5-2.
In the process she’s become the face of women’s soccer, starring in commercials and magazine spreads, writing books and appearing in movies.
The spotlight is not new to her, although a spotlight that with each successive World Cup grows brighter and brighter might be. There is not an action or comment these days that doesn’t elicit a reaction somewhere around the globe.
It left Morgan, in the run-up to the final, forced to stand her ground in front of the international media as much as she does at the top of the American attack.
“We understand the eyes are kind of on us and it’s been a magnified situation,” Morgan said Friday. “We have a lot of team conversations about keeping that bubble tight, and everything outside that is just noise and at the end of the day, we are here to do a job and a job that we’ve dreamt of and worked our entire life for.”
On the Megan Rapinoe-Donald Trump dust-up about whether the team will visit the White House following the tournament (the USWNT has been invited win or lose), Morgan said there’s been too much talk too soon about that.
“I think we’ll make that decision after we finish Sunday’s game,” Morgan said. “I think there has been a lot of talk prematurely about the White House and about Trump. But first we have to do business and I think you guys know the answer to the question anyways.”
The U.S. team visited the White House in 2015 when President Barack Obama was there. Of late, visiting with President Trump has become a touchstone decision, and at times has split teams apart. Sometimes scaled-down groups go. Sometimes they skip altogether. No NBA team has visited Trump. Neither of the last two Super Bowl champions, the Philadelphia Eagles nor the New England Patriots, went.
Morgan said she wasn’t sure what or how it would play out, but she thought the team would probably do it together as a sign of unity.
“I can’t say 100 percent but this team is very close and we’ve always made decisions together,” Morgan said. “So I can’t really see us deciding to part in that way, but at the same time if someone feels strongly, who are we to tell them to do or not do something?”
On less weighty topics, Morgan was still dealing with criticism, especially from Great Britain, over her goal celebration in the Americans’ 2-1 victory over England in the semifinal. She stood tall and mimicked sipping a cup of tea. Her intent was to mock all the gossip (or “tea” as the word means these days) about the U.S. team.
“It was just a little of pinkies up,” she said after the game. “... That’s the tea.”
Something was lost in translation though, because many thought she was smacking England and its tradition of drinking tea.
“My celebration was actually more about, ‘That’s the tea,’ which is telling a story, spreading the news,” Morgan said again on Friday. “It wasn’t a hit to England in any way.”
Others spoke out about the celebration being too over the top and look-at-me. They said that isn’t the proper way to celebrate a goal. Morgan clapped back on that quickly.
“There is some sort of double standard for females in sports to feel like we have to be humble in our successes and have to celebrate but not too much and have to do something, but it always needs to be a limited fashion,” she said. “You see men celebrate all over the world in big tournaments, you know, grabbing their sacks or whatever it is.
“When I look at sipping a cup of tea, I’m a little taken aback and kind of laugh about it to see all the criticism,” she continued. “So I’m a little disappointed about that.”
Morgan has scored six times in this tournament and has a chance to finish as both its highest scorer and its most valuable player. To do that, however, she’ll need to play exceptionally well on Sunday.
The one thing playing in two finals has taught her is that nerves need to be overcome and every second of the game matters. She looked back to that 2011 final, where she thought her goal in the 69th minute and her brilliant assist on an Abby Wambach goal in the 104th would be enough to win. Instead Japan tied it 2-2 in the 117th minute and then won it on penalty kicks.
“I was very naive in thinking that was going to be the game-winning goal and thinking that was how it was going to end, and clearly it ended the opposite of that,” Morgan said. “I just have that USA mentality of believing we are going to win but staying tuned into the game for every second.”
So she’d prefer the 2015 final, where the Americans scored four times in the first 16 minutes and put the game out of reach.
Jumping the opposition has been a U.S. hallmark in this tournament. It’s scored in the first 12 minutes of all six games thus far. The Americans have never trailed in this World Cup, despite a daunting path to the final through a number of top-ranked clubs.
There is little doubt Alex Morgan, armed with experience and talent and a focus on winning that can’t be rattled by pressure on or off the pitch, will be pushing for a similar start. After that, everything will take care of itself, she figures.
The game. The White House. The whatever.
Just know that if the United States scores a goal, the players will not be afraid to celebrate in any manner they choose. They are here to win, not waste time trying to make everyone happy.
“I don’t think we will be deterred by a few naysayers,” Morgan said.
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