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 2016 has been a great year so far for women’s soccer in the United States. The NWSL not only made it to a fourth season, they expanded the league by adding an Orlando franchise, and attendance is up throughout the league. The USWNT is undefeated and boasts impressive victories over Germany, France, Japan, England, and Canada - all top ten international squads. Their sole blemish is a tie against Japan. With a number of new faces, due to injuries, pregnancies, and retirements this team should expect some growing pains. Certainly the drama surrounding the women’s fight against US Soccer for equal pay should also having an effect on the team. On top of it all, Carli Lloyd has missed some time recently with an injury suffered during league play. Fortunately the familiar face of Alex Morgan has regained her form this year and may finally be ready to assume the leadership role that always seemed to be her destiny.

Following the 2012 season when Morgan put up 28 goals and 21 assists in 31 games she was rightly expected to be the next great star for the American team. While she has certainly maintained a relatively high profile during that time her play on the field has not come anywhere close to her 2012 numbers, until now. Through 13 games Morgan has 11 goals scored, her most in a season since 2012, and 3 assists. And she’s doing it while still creating opportunities for her teammates as the focal point of the offense.  She’s doing it by being the leader on the field, a role often left for Lloyd or Wambach before.

Recent criticism of Morgan has focused on her injuries or her propensity to have huge games against lesser opponents. Even throughout the World Cup last summer pundits wondered what was wrong with Morgan. Her shots were no longer tactical, she disappeared for long stretches, she wasn’t playing confidently. In many ways Morgan was the victim of her own greatness. Like Mia Hamm fielding questions about why she didn’t score, even after a victory,’s lower production  Morgan was a source of fascination for US soccer fans. Were her best days behind her? Was she as dedicated now that she had all those endorsements? Was she really just the beneficiary of being on a team with great players? Then came the inaugural SheBelieves Cup and Morgan was the best player on the pitch. Not just for the US. Morgan was the best player on the pitch that featured four of the top five teams in the FIFA Women’s World Rankings. She was, justifiably, recognized as the tournament’s best player.  Since then she has not slowed down, creating opportunities, scoring goals, and leading the team in two games against Japan.

A team can’t lose two players like Abby Wambach and Lauren Holiday in one offseason and not expect a transitional period. Injuries to Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd bring the issue further to the forefront. The USWNT that plays in Rio this summer will be much different than the team that won the World Cup last year. Should Alex Morgan continue with her excellent form, the results might remain the same.

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