After a breakout 2022 season with the Chicago Red Stars, East Lansing High graduate Zoe Morse had some options on where she could continue her professional soccer career.
She could re-sign with the Red Stars and keep playing in the National Women's Soccer League, or pursue an opportunity overseas.
Morse chose the latter.
Earlier this month, Morse completed a move to play in England’s Women’s Super League, signing with Brighton and Hove Albion on an 18-month contract that expires after the 2023-24 season.
For Morse, the opportunity came at the right time.
“I was happy in Chicago,” Morse said. “I really enjoyed it there. It was one of those things where there was a bit of a natural transition that I felt coming in my career. My contract was up at Chicago, and I was renegotiating with them, and this opportunity at Brighton popped up and it just felt like the right move, both soccer and life-experience wise. I felt like I’d be pushed in both areas, and it felt like the right thing to do.”
— Brighton & Hove Albion Women (@BHAFCWomen) January 8, 2023
Brighton hasn’t wasted any time plugging Morse into the starting lineup.
The center back started her first two matches and played the full 90 minutes in both, a 3-0 league loss to Leicester City on Jan. 15 and a 0-0 (3-0 in penalties) win Wednesday over West Ham in the WSL Cup that saw them get knocked out of that competition despite the victory.
When players move to a different league or continent like Morse, there’s usually a bit of a settling-in period. There wasn’t much of one for Morse, who only had three practices with the team before getting plugged into the starting 11.
Morse was one of five signings made by Brighton during the winter break, including the arrival of a new manager, Jens Scheuer.
“Coming in here, it’s been trial by fire,” Morse said. “You gotta just jump in, get to know people as quickly as possible and see what we can throw together on the field. It’s a lot of getting to know each other and seeing how quickly we can get this to work.
“The games come pretty quickly and I don’t think I was completely settled yet, but it felt good to get out there and enjoy myself. It’s a sign of (coming to England) being the right move.”
Morse got on Brighton’s radar after a solid 2022 campaign with Chicago, her first season as a full-time starter. She started all but one game (due to yellow-card accumulation), finishing with 100 clearances, 11 blocks, 20 interceptions and completed more than 80 percent of her passes while tallying one assist on the season.
It was that passing ability as a central defender that Scheuer liked about Morse’s play.
“She is reaching her prime playing years in terms of her age,” Scheuer said in a press release. “She has a lot of experience in one of the best leagues in the world. She’s a really strong defender, but good at building out from the back – we’re happy to have her here.”
Morse will have to get up to speed quickly, as Brighton is in the midst of a relegation battle. The Seagulls are currently 11th in the 12-team table, four points ahead of last-place Leicester City. With the last-place team getting relegated to the second division and Brighton only four points clear with 13 matches to play, Morse is ready to be sharp from the get-go.
“I think getting settled through games is what’s gonna have to happen, and I think that can be a great way to really settle in, just get into it and learn with each game," she said.
There wasn’t much reticence from leaving the NWSL, arguably the best league in the world, to the WSL. Although most of the U.S. women’s national team regulars all play in the NWSL (all but one called in for January's international friendlies play in the NWSL), it’s a little more spread out when talking about the best players in the world. Of the 20 players named to the Ballon d’Or shortlist last year, only two — Alex Morgan and Trinity Rodman — play in the NWSL. Four play in England, seven in France, five in Spain and two in Germany.
“I’d say both are very highly respected leagues across the international stage,” Morse said. “In general, NWSL is known as a transitional, athletic league where the WSL is more technical, more speed-of-play oriented and that kind of thing. I’m excited to improve that side of my game by being immersed in it over here.”
This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Zoe Morse moves to England, joins Brighton from Chicago Red Stars