FIFA Women's World Cup
Alex Morgan on rare missed penalty kick: 'Glad to put that behind me'
FIFA Women's World Cup

Alex Morgan on rare missed penalty kick: 'Glad to put that behind me'

Updated Jul. 26, 2023 6:39 a.m. ET

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Alex Morgan took a deep breath and stepped up to the penalty spot with a plan in mind.

The United States led Vietnam 1-0 In the 44th minute of its World Cup opening match, and Morgan had a chance to double the scoreline with a penalty kick after Trinity Rodman was fouled in the box.

Morgan's plan was to aim for the bottom left corner with her left foot. But Vietnam goalkeeper Tran Thi Kim Thanh read the U.S. co-captain and made a bold diving save.

Alex Morgan's penalty kick is denied


The U.S. women's national team went on to win 3-0 anyway and earn three critical points in Group E. But Morgan's uncharacteristic miss didn't sit well with her. And it's the kind of opportunity the USWNT won't be able to recover from as easily in its next match against the Netherlands on Wednesday (coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET, with kickoff at 9 p.m. on FOX and the FOX Sports app).

[USWNT vs. the Netherlands: Scouting report, prediction for key Group E clash]

"When you put away a penalty, obviously it feels really good," Morgan said. "And when you don't, it doesn't. It really sucks and feels like you let the team down. So I'm glad to put that behind me, and am really hopeful for the future in this tournament."

Penalty kicks are some of the most compelling theater in sport. 

Just seven months ago, Lionel Messi and Argentina won the men's World Cup after a penalty shootout with reigning champion France. After the first 16 matches at the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, there have been nine penalty attempts with only five players scoring a goal.

It has been equal parts wild and unusual and exhilarating.

[What's with so many PKs, and so many misses, in this Women's World Cup?]

"I think a penalty is such a unique situation in the game of football," Morgan said. "It's one that you can try to recreate in training, but obviously the psychological factor comes into play with a packed stadium, with a goalkeeper you might not have faced before, with the pressure of where you are in a game, if you're up or you're down or whatever the scoreline is.

"But at the same time, it's something that you train and train, and the ball is always at the same spot, and you try to put it in a particular place. That was not the case for me the other day. And, hopefully, it was the last of that not being the case for me."

This was Morgan's first penalty attempt in regulation at a World Cup — and this is her fourth go-around. Four years ago, Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe were ahead in the pecking order. Morgan said the squad practices PKs almost every day and as an attacker, she believes she should have the advantage over the goalkeeper.

[Carli Lloyd explains 'art of finishing,' where USWNT can improve]

Some of the best attacking players in the world have recently joined Morgan in having their penalty shot saved. Canada legend and longtime captain Christine Sinclair would have become the first player ever — female or male — to score in six World Cups had she made her penalty in a 0-0 draw against Nigeria. Of course, she still has time. 

Spain veteran forward Jennifer Hermoso, La Roja's all-time leading scorer, was denied by Costa Rica goalkeeper Daniela Solera

Morgan is also in good company when it comes to former USWNT players tripping up from the spot at a World Cup. In 2019, Lloyd went wide left against Chile in the group stage and in 2015, Abby Wambach failed to convert against Colombia during the Round of 16.

But for an American at the World Cup, having your penalty kick actually saved by a goalkeeper is more rare than flat out missing the target. Morgan was the first USWNT player to have a PK saved since U.S. icon Mia Hamm was denied by Norway goalkeeper Bente Nordby in 2003.

"Any time I watch one of my teammates step up and take a PK, I have all the trust in them," U.S. defender Sofia Huerta said. "I've seen Alex make every PK I've ever seen her take. But the reality of it is, we're human, and we're not perfect, and every player that takes a PK and steps up to take a PK, they're bound to miss one every once in a while. 

"We're behind Alex, and we have full confidence in her when she takes another PK."

'First time that the US team will be tested defensively' - Ari Hingst on the USWNT's upcoming match up vs. Netherlands

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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