Alex Morgan working her way back to sharpness after injury layoff
JUN 26, 2014 3:17a ET
EAST HARTFORD, Conn.
Alex Morgan answered any lingering doubts about the state of her troublesome left ankle with her reaction to scoring the first goal in the United States women’s national team’s 2-2 draw with France last week.
Morgan eschewed the typical gathering on the field and sped toward the end line. She bounded over the signage and surged straight to the collection of American Outlaws perched in the far corner. She lunged to slap a few hands, reveled in her goal and then turned back to her duties back on the field.
The spontaneous decision to herald her first national team goal in a year in such a dedicated fashion revealed its cathartic importance. Morgan first sustained her injury in October. She played against Brazil in November and went to the sidelines after that outing. She waited and waited for the chance to take the field again.
Her absence stretched longer than anyone might have expected. One month turned into two. Two months turned into four. And the stress reaction in her left ankle still hindered her enough to push back her date again and again.
"The past few months have definitely been mentally draining," Morgan said. "Physically, trying to get my fitness back hasn't been the easiest. After getting a couple of minutes the other night [41 minutes in the 1-0 victory over France on June 14], 45 minutes tonight and, hopefully, a lot of minutes with my club team in the coming weeks, I think I’ll be back to 100 percent fit.”
There is no switch to flip after a layoff of that duration, no surefire way to step back onto the field at 100 percent. Morgan admitted as much. It takes time, energy and patience to reach that point once again. She received ample support along the way. Portland Thorns coach Paul Riley monitored her recovery carefully without placing her progress at risk. United States women’s national team medical staffers evaluated her once she joined the camp in early June.
All of the caution finally allowed Morgan to step onto the field without hesitation. She ramped up her activities in training and started her first NWSL game of the season in a 5-0 defeat to Western New York Flash on June 7. She then linked up with her country and pushed for time by performing on the training field ahead of CONCACAF's World Cup qualifying for next year's summer tournament in Canada.
"I wasn't expecting a lot out of her when I initially came in," United States women’s coach Jill Ellis told reporters. "Through the camp, she’s done really well. In the games, she’s improved. I'm really pleased for her. She's worked very, very hard to come back from this."
Morgan continues to take steps forward as she adjusts to the rhythm of playing regularly once again. She followed her two-goal performance against France with two goals and an assist in the 6-1 victory over Washington on June 21. She played another 90 minutes and presented a constant threat in the Thorns’ 2-1 defeat to Sky Blue FC on Wednesday night.
Each match provides her with yet another opportunity to push forward in her quest to return to optimal sharpness. Each training session supplies another opportunity to take more touches on the ball and work out the kinks in front of goal. Each day underscores the strides made over the past few months to reach this point.
There are still more landmarks ahead to meet for club and country this year. There are World Cup qualifiers in her future. There are NWSL titles to defend. And Morgan wants to make sure she is ready to help push ahead on all of those fronts with one eye on the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada.
Her health isn’t holding her back now. She is ready to go once more. It is just a matter of time before she satisfies her own lofty standards and returns to her devastating best for the long haul.
"I feel like my recovery is done," Morgan said. "I'm now looking forward to what else I can do to better myself on the field."
“I just feel like, finally, I’m back and doing what I’m supposed to be doing: scoring goals. It feels good”