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Thursday, July 18, 2024
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Would the USWNT be stronger with Alex Morgan on the bench?

Alex Morgan is an American soccer icon. Only nine players have scored more goals in the history of the US Women’s National Team, with the 34-year-old a two-time World Cup winner. Morgan is going for the individual and collective three-peat in Australia and New Zealand this summer and is still a key member of Vlatko Andonovski’s team.

There is a strong argument, though, that Morgan should have been phased out of the USWNT starting lineup before now. While the San Diego Wave player offered something through her hold-up play in last week’s tournament opener against Vietnam, she also had a penalty saved and looked generally blunt in front of goal.

In the USWNT’s final warm-up match against Wales, Andonovski finished with a front three of Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman and Lynn Williams. Many noted how the team was electrified by the trio being on the pitch at the same time. With this in mind, might the USWNT be stronger with Morgan on the bench?

Smith announced her arrival on the World Cup stage by scoring twice and assisting another in the 3-0 victory over Vietnam and while Rodman didn’t demonstrate her best form, her talent cannot be doubted. As a duo, they are at the vanguard of the USWNT’s next generation.

More could be drawn out of Smith by shifting her into the middle, where she operates at club level for the Portland Thorns. Andonovski has even used Rodman as a centre forward in the past and with the 21-year-old able to interchange and switch position with Smith during the course of a match the USWNT could quickly become one of the most fluid teams in the 2023 Women’s World Cup with just one change to their attacking lineup.

The USWNT certainly didn’t get off to a bad start by seeing off Vietnam with ease. Other favourites such as England and France struggled in their opening World Cup fixtures. However, Andonovski’s team still played somewhat within itself. Even Morgan admitted this.

“I think we saw a lot of glimpses of our potential, but I feel like we weren’t always clicking on the field,” said the forward about the USWNT’s performance. “I feel like some of the plays that we had were a little forced or rushed. So I think it’s having a little more patience, switching a little bit more, having our movements be a little more synchronised. And so I think we’re looking to apply that for this next game and moving forward.”

Ironically, Morgan might be the one holding the US back from achieving synchronicity in their attacking play. The USWNT face a tough test against 2019 Women’s World Cup finalists the Netherlands on Thursday (Wednesday evening ET) and the defending champions will have to lift their level in the final third of the pitch.

Of course, Andonovski has a lot more than just the identity of his starting number nine to think about. The USWNT’s midfield unit has come under scrutiny in recent times with Julie Ertz starting at centre back against Vietnam rather than in the centre of the pitch. Will that continue for the rest of the tournament? 

A lot has changed for the USWNT since the last Women’s World Cup four years ago. A poor showing at the Tokyo Olympics highlighted the need to accelerate the transition into a new era for the national team and that transition has taken place to a certain extent through the introduction of players like Rodman and Smith.

Morgan clearly still has something to offer. She is the USWNT’s current top scorer with 121 goals in 2018 appearances. The 34-year-old is more experienced at the elite level of the women’s game than anyone else in the squad. Andonovski can count on her to be a steadying influence for some of the younger players.

But it’s worth considering whether it would be worthwhile for the USWNT to fully lean into its next generation to give itself the best possible chance of retaining their Women’s World Cup crown. The rising tide from Europe means the US must be at their best to stay above the watermark this summer, and they might be at their best with Morgan no longer a central pillar.

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