FIFA Women's World Cup
Alex Morgan, coming off a rough World Cup, looks to the future
FIFA Women's World Cup

Alex Morgan, coming off a rough World Cup, looks to the future

Updated Aug. 7, 2023 2:09 a.m. ET

MELBOURNE, Australia — When it was all over, Alex Morgan found the one person who could make her smile after such a brutal defeat.

The United States, four-time World Cup champion and the No. 1-ranked team in the world, was devastated after Sweden knocked it out in the round of 16 on Sunday following a penalty shootout. The Americans entered the tournament as the favorites to make history by winning three straight titles. 

Fate had other plans.

Morgan, who was on the bench during penalty kicks after being substituted for Megan Rapinoe in the 99th minute, cried at midfield with her teammates following the final whistle. Once she had somewhat gathered herself, the superstar forward walked over to her family in the stands and embraced her 3-year-old daughter, Charlie.


"I was just telling her how much I love her," Morgan said, her voice quivering. "And that I'm going to be spending a lot more time with her this next week or two and moving forward. I didn't get a lot of time to spend with her the last month and a half.

"So, that's the only silver lining."

[USWNT run of dominance over after painfully early World Cup exit]

Beyond her immediate plans for more family time, Morgan's future is of keen interest to the soccer world. At 34 years old, was this her final World Cup for the U.S. women's national team?

"I'm just gonna take these next few days to process what just happened," Morgan said minutes after the match. "Then get back to San Diego, and we have a lot of work to do there."

Morgan, who earned her first cap in 2010, has grown up on the national team. She has gone from the squad's "Baby Horse" to its all-time leading mom scorer. She's an Olympic gold medalist and has played in four World Cups, but this one was supposed to be extra special because it was her first as a mother. Coming in, she had worked her way back from pregnancy and found the next level of her game.

But her performance here was meager at best. Morgan started every match at striker but didn't have enough results to show for it: one assist, zero goals, a missed PK.

"We didn't put anything in back of net. I didn't put anything in back of net," a dejected Morgan said. "As a forward, you're judged deservedly on goals. There was none for me, so, yeah. I'm really disappointed with myself and wish I could have provided more."

As the World Cup proceeds without the reigning champions, there will be plenty of scrutiny of the United States' run here. While Morgan hasn't announced her intentions, if this turns out to have been her last World Cup run, what legacy would she leave behind — and what could be next for her?

"It feels like a bad dream" — Alex Morgan on USA loss

*** *** ***

In late 2021, Morgan found herself on the outside looking in, stuck between the juggling act of young parenthood and persistent on-field ambition.

Morgan had given birth to Charlie in May 2020 and regained enough fitness to be included on the roster for the Tokyo Olympics, which had been rescheduled due to the pandemic.

But Morgan struggled — she was away from Charlie for 35 days, and the pandemic fundamentally changed the dynamic of what should have been a spirited Olympics. The U.S. lost to eventual-champion Canada in the semifinal and earned a bronze medal. 

In the fallout, Morgan was not invited to training camp in October or November of that year, nor in January and February 2022.

She understood it was the time of a four-year cycle where coaches often like to bring in young players and experiment with new things. But she'd also been on the national team long enough to know nobody's spot was ever guaranteed, even for a global star.

[Alex Morgan's father, the ultimate soccer dad: 'He's literally at everything']

"Being omitted from the national team for six months and not being called in was a really big gut check," Morgan told FOX Sports in February. "And it was like, ‘OK, I need to dig in, and I don't need to prove this to myself, but I need to really show everyone why I belong on the national team. Why I belong in the conversation of the best.'"

Morgan proceeded to have an exceptional NWSL season playing for the expansion San Diego Wave. She won the 2022 Golden Boot as the league's top scorer with a career-best 15 goals in 17 games. U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski called her up in June 2022 for a pair of friendlies and the CONCACAF W Championship.

"You don't realize what you have until it's taken away from you," Morgan said. "I think I realized in that moment that I wanted both. Being a mom and being one of the best in the world and being able to have an opportunity at another World Cup, another Olympic gold medal."

Morgan continued to grind. She'd pick up Charlie from daycare, feed her, put her to bed, then watch game film instead of Netflix. She found another level to her abilities. In February, Morgan was a finalist for the Best FIFA Women's Player of the year and also became the USWNT's all-time leading scoring mom. In June, she made her fourth World Cup roster, but first as a mom. And in July, was named co-captain of the team alongside Lindsey Horan.

"You can't question our determination as female athletes, but especially in becoming a mom and juggling everything," Morgan said. "We want to maximize our time when we're away from our children, and so we're going to make sure that we do anything and everything possible to be successful in both areas — as a mom and as an athlete."

[Meet the 'badass' OG soccer moms who blazed a trail for USWNT]

Following that hot stretch, just a couple of weeks before the World Cup kicked off, Andonovski made a public prediction that would color this tournament run for his star:

"I think that we're gonna see the best of Alex this summer."

*** *** ***

Andonovski's prediction didn't age well.

Morgan, who won the Silver Boot four years ago at the 2019 World Cup with six goals and three assists, didn't score once here in Australia or New Zealand. She had the assist on Sophia Smith's first goal against Vietnam, a nifty flick that was probably the most creative moment the U.S. had at this tournament. But then she uncharacteristically missed a penalty kick in that same game. 

And she didn't even get the chance to take one during the shootout against Sweden because she had already been subbed off.

"I mean, I've prepared a long time for that moment," Morgan said following the round of 16 loss. "My jersey wasn't called because in run of play, that's the way the substitutions worked. But, of course, I would have [liked to have taken a PK]. I'll do whatever the team needs and at that moment, I was on the bench."

USWNT's Megan Rapinoe replaces Alex Morgan in extra time

As the U.S. reflects on everything that went wrong at this World Cup, one head-scratcher that will be dissected is: Why wasn't Morgan able to come up in the clutch? Where was her signature magic?

[USA's three-peat dream ends in heartbreaking shootout loss to Sweden]

She is the face of the national team for scoring major goals in major moments. That's how it's been from the beginning. Arguably her first big break for the senior team came when the USWNT faced Italy in a playoff to qualify for the 2011 World Cup. Morgan, then 20, scored the winning goal and clinched the U.S. a spot in the tournament. She went on to score again in that World Cup final and assist mentor Abby Wambach on another, though Japan won it eventually in penalty kicks.

Morgan has always been dependable. At the World Cup four years ago, she delivered the decisive final blow against England in the semifinal and pretended to sip tea in celebration. That stoked the U.S.-England rivalry and the UK press had a field day. 

And just last year, she converted the winning penalty to defeat Canada, 1-0, in the title game of the 2022 CONCACAF W Championship, which qualified the USWNT for this World Cup and next summer's Olympics in Paris.

It was no secret, though, that even with Morgan hitting the next phase of her game in motherhood, her role would be slightly different this summer. Not in a Rapinoe-coming-off-the-bench way, but she wouldn't carry the scoring load. Rather, Andonovski wanted her to distract defenders and create opportunities for rising players like Smith and Trinity Rodman. There had been a chance, too, that Morgan wouldn't have started at the No. 9 position had 23-year-old striker Catarina Macario fully recovered from an ACL injury in time.

Even so, especially as the U.S. struggled, there was a sense Morgan would take over and do something to prevent this team from elimination.

That moment — one that would have been a perfect cap to Morgan's otherwise exemplary career — never came.

"All we want to do is win and be successful," Morgan said. "Be able to uphold the legacy that this team deserves. And we failed at that this time."

*** *** ***

This wasn't the tournament Morgan hoped for — that's what she said the day before the U.S. was knocked out by Sweden. But at that point, she was "optimistic" and "highly motivated" that the team was due for a turnaround.

Morgan hasn't so much as whispered the word retirement. Not like the 38-year-old Rapinoe, who announced her intentions before the World Cup, or fellow mom Julie Ertz, 31, who said after the loss that "it is probably the last game ever being able to have the honor to wear this crest."

Does Morgan want to play deeper into her 30s or even 40s? What about the Paris Olympics next summer? All she has let on is that she wants to grow her family and her varied other interests. 

Earlier this year, she started the Alex Morgan Foundation, which she hopes will inspire and support women and young girls who want to play soccer. She also launched a media company called TOGETHXR, alongside Sue Bird, Chloe Kim and Simone Manuel.

"With soccer, I love it, but it's not my identity, it's not everything of who I am," Morgan told FOX Sports earlier this year. "I think a lot of people see me as ‘Alex Morgan the soccer player,' but I hope they start to see me as ‘Alex Morgan the activist, Alex Morgan the entrepreneur, Alex Morgan the mom.'

"So with that, I feel like I'm setting up things in order to make that next stage of my life as fulfilling or more than right now."

"When I'm home, I'm just mom" — Alex Morgan, Julie Ertz and Crystal Dunn reflect on being first-time mothers at the World Cup

The day before the Sweden game, Morgan was asked what her reaction was to another powerhouse, Germany, not making it out of its group. Was she happy about it? Did it make the USWNT's path easier? On the contrary, Morgan said seeing the Germans go out was "tough to watch."

That's because while she was focused on the field and wanted to win, Morgan also wants to continue to see other federations invest more in their women's programs. She has been thrilled to see underdogs take down soccer giants at this World Cup. And she knows that even if it feels like those upsets came at the expense of the U.S., they are also a recognition of everything Morgan and her teammates have done for the women's game.

[Alex Morgan on growth of Women's World Cup: 'Just incredible to see']

"I'm still hopeful for the future of this team, and I stand by that," Morgan said. "The game is evolving, the game is getting better, and that's not going to change. It's only going to continue."

Morgan has made it a passion point to have her finger on the pulse of everything going on in women's sports. She took a leadership role within the USWNT Players' Association that fought for and won equal pay, and has spoken out on the abuse and sexual misconduct in the NWSL. She tweets about the Women's Final Four and hypes up athletes such as Caitlin Clark, and has challenged her own sponsors and employers to bring awareness to what it's like to be an elite athlete and also a mother. She wants to set an example for Charlie and brings her to every game possible so that she can be exposed to other powerful women.

"She's just a professional in every way," said Smith, who has cited Morgan as a role model. "How she carries herself. You can just watch Alex and learn a lot from her. I mean, she's in the spotlight. Her life is crazy. To watch her navigate that and at the same time be a mom, which is something I hope to do too, you can learn so much."

While the USWNT's World Cup finish was disappointing and will take some time to recover from, Morgan seems to be in no hurry to make a decision about what's in store for her next. But she has thought about it.

"I just want to live in the moment, and I think at the end of the day, I'd be happy hanging up my boots when the time is right," Morgan told FOX Sports earlier this year. "And if that's sooner than later, I'll be fine with that."

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of "Strong Like a Woman," published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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