FIFA Women's World Cup
Alex Morgan optimistic vs. Sweden: 'We are highly motivated'
FIFA Women's World Cup

Alex Morgan optimistic vs. Sweden: 'We are highly motivated'

Updated Aug. 5, 2023 7:40 p.m. ET

MELBOURNE, Australia — Megan Rapinoe and Andi Sullivan were bobbing their heads, Julie Ertz was singing, and Crystal Dunn had a bit of pep in her step.

"Mr. Blue Sky" was blaring through the United States training grounds the day before the team's most anticipated match of this World Cup. The Americans face familiar foe Sweden in a round of 16 showdown Sunday (coverage begins at 4 a.m. ET, with kickoff at 5 a.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app)

The rest of the playlist was pretty light and upbeat with some Abba, Queen and Tina Turner sprinkled in. The USWNT doesn't always play music to start practice, but this time it did. And the players looked loose and energetic, not like a group that was nearly eliminated just a few days ago.

The U.S. has seen its top 10 peers GermanyCanada and Brazil miss the knockout round and know that nobody is safe, no matter how many major tournaments they've won. They've heard the criticisms from the outside for not playing well or having the right mindset. 


And since they were saved by the goal post to preserve a scoreless tie against Portugal, the USWNT says it has done everything possible to be better prepared to play Sweden. 

"There's no sugarcoating it," U.S. co-captain Alex Morgan said, "we had a bad game against Portugal. And we are lucky. We have moved on from that and are looking forward to this match. We've prepared every second we possibly could in creating the most chances, on limiting [Sweden] in chances, and I feel very motivated for the match."

Morgan, who has 121 goals in 210 appearances for the USWNT, hasn't scored a single one in this tournament. She won the Silver Boot four years ago, scoring six goals with three assists, and tied the program's single-game scoring record with five goals in the opening match against Thailand.

Will the United States beat Sweden?

The ruthlessness the U.S. prides itself on in front of goal hasn't been there, and the Americans know that. Morgan knows it. But "panic" and "concern" aren't words this group uses.

"I think we've broken down what went wrong, how we can fix that, in possession, out of possession, how we can capitalize on the chances we have in front of goal, how we can create more chances in front of goal, how I can put away the chances that I'm given," Morgan said before finally taking a breath.

"It hasn't been the tournament that I would have hoped," she continued. "But at the same time, having this incredible opportunity in front of us in the round of 16, facing Sweden, a team we know extremely well, I think there's no question we are highly motivated to play this game."

The USWNT and Sweden have played each other a remarkable amount of times. Sunday's match will be the 10th all-time meeting between the nations at a major tournament (World Cup and Olympics), and the seventh at a World Cup (including each one since 2003). The U.S. holds a 4-1-1 record and shockingly, this is the first time the sides have clashed in the knockout round.

World Cup NOW team previews USA-Sweden

None of that history really matters to Morgan.

"We want to continue to prove ourselves right," Morgan said when asked about fans and pundits back in the States and around the world grumbling about the squad not meeting expectations. "I don't blame people for holding a high standard [for us]. …

"We still want to stay on top, but we have to prove that time and time again, and we have to be able to show that [Sunday]."

Though that still won't mean beating up on opponents with lopsided score lines as the Americans often did in the past.

"We're highly motivated" — Alex Morgan on USWNT's matchup vs. Sweden

"We want to blow everybody out by five goals. Who doesn't want to do that, right?" U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski said. "But those results are gone. They're not gonna happen. 

"The fact is that we're in, and we're moving on. And for everyone who wants to see more, we promise we're going to do everything we can, and we are preparing ourselves the best that we can to provide success and meet the expectations. But first and foremost, we want to make sure we meet our own expectations."

The four-time champions have a chance to finally do just that against Sweden. If they don't, their World Cup will come to a premature end.

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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