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Alex Morgan notches two goals in US win

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Morgan has transitioned from super sub to superstar in the last year, leading the US attack.
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Ives Galarcep

Ives Galarcep is a 14-year veteran of the American soccer beat. He created and operates the popular American soccer blog, Soccer By Ives, which was voted Best American Soccer Blog by US Soccer in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Ives was also voted Best Football Writer by SoccerLens in 2010. 
 

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CHESTER, PA

The announcement of the final U.S. Women’s Olympic roster on Sunday afternoon took some of the suspense out of the friendly later that evening against China. The match changed from being an audition for players hoping to make the team, to a showcase for the squad that will most likely start when the Olympics get underway in July.

This 18-player roster looks very much like the same squad that finished second in the 2011 World Cup, but Sunday we saw a glimpse of how one player’s role has changed dramatically in the past year. Alex Morgan put on a show, scoring a pair of goals and setting up another in the US’s 4-1 victory at PPL Park on Sunday night.

Morgan looked every bit like the most dangerous player on the field, showing off her speed, strength, tenacity and deadly finishing ability.

This isn’t exactly breaking news. Morgan has spent the past year building on the momentum of her inspiring performances at the 2011 World Cup, where she came off the bench late in games and scored some of the most important goals of the tournament. So far in 2012, counting Sunday’s virtuoso performance, Morgan has tallied 13 goals and eight assists in 12 national team matches. Mind-blowing numbers for a 22-year-old player on a stacked U.S. team.

Her super sub days are over. Morgan is taking her game to new heights, and as scary as it sounds, her form on the field is matching up to the growing hype surrounding her off the field. She is more than just a pretty face drawing interest from corporations trying to capitalize on her combination of beauty and skill. Morgan is a bonafide superstar in the making, as her form since last summer’s World Cup has shown.

Sunday’s game was the kind of game U.S. fans—and her teammates—are quickly growing accustomed to from Morgan.

“After that experience at the World Cup I think she came back stronger than ever,” U.S. captain Christie Rampone said of Morgan. “She wanted that starting spot and she earned it. She continues to work every day and she’s getting stronger and stronger and I’m looking forward to seeing her at the Olympics.”

Rampone helped set up Morgan’s most impressive moment of the night when the veteran centerback lofted a perfect long pass that Morgan ran onto, out-muscling a China defender before hitting a perfect strike from 18 yards out, making it 3-1 in the 50th minute.

Morgan fell short in her bid for a hat-trick, but capped her night with an assist when she sent an excellent long throw-in to Abby Wambach that the veteran striker finished from close range to make the final score 4-1.

The US started things off slowly, with China jumping out to a 22nd-minute lead by capitalizing on some shaky team defending from the home side. The Americans eventually settled down and took control, tying things up in the 34th minute when Morgan sent a curling shot past the China goalkeeper.

That goal settled the US down, and a China own goal just two minutes later gave the Americans the lead for good.

“We struggled a little bit in the first half and we turned it around in the second half,” Sundhage said. “The halftime talk was good with the players.

“We haven’t played a lot of games, and it’s a little bit of a concern,” Sundhage said. “The more games you play the better it is, and this game was very important for the fact we could pick it up in the second half.”

Sundhage inserted Lauren Cheney and Amy Rodriguez for Carli Lloyd and Heather O’Reilly, and the changes sparked the American midfield, which thoroughly dominated play in the second half against a fading Chinese side.

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Another interesting tactical change in the second half included a shift to a 3-4-3 formation for the final ten minutes of the match. Sydney LeRoux came on and provided an instant spark, forcing a quality save with a hard shot from the top of the penalty arc.

The new formation looked effective, with LeRoux, Wambach and Morgan proving to be a handful for China’s back-line. Sundhage acknowledged after the match that she plans on implementing the 3-4-3 more during the lead-up to the Olympics in order to give the team an added wrinkle. Sundhage admitted the formation was something she considered because of the qualities LeRoux brings to it.

“If you want to do that in the Olympics we need to work on it, and I thought the action we got from it was pretty good,” Sundhage said of the 3-4-3. “When you are almost forced to throw everything forward, and take some risks in the back, then you need a player like (LeRoux) because her attitude is good on both sides of the ball.”

The only player named to the Olympic team who wasn’t on last summer’s U.S. World Cup squad, LeRoux looked good in limited late minutes. She nearly scored a goal and showed strong tenacity and work rate tracking back deep into the defensive third, earning a yellow card for a tough challenge.

“I was nervous up until the time I found out,” LeRoux said of making the Olympic team. “It’s a pretty amazing feeling. If all goes well and I stay healthy then I’ll get to be an Olympian.”

While LeRoux has the makings of a player who could surprise at the Olympics, Alex Morgan won’t be shocking anybody in Great Britain this summer. Her stellar form heading into the Olympics has raised the already lofty expectations around her. On Sunday, with her fifth multi-goal game in her last nine national team matches, Morgan looks like a player who has made the successful transition from super sub to superstar.

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