Thursday, April 26, 2018
Sports

Alex Morgan to return for U.S. women in Tampa

TAMPA — International soccer star. Product endorser. Runway model. Cover girl. Author. Soon-to-be wife. Role model. Does Alex Morgan ever sleep?

"There's never enough hours in the day," she said.

Morgan has become a U.S. women's national team darling since bursting onto the scene during the United States' gold-medal-winning 2012 Olympic run. But after an eight-month layoff from the national team due to a left foot injury, Morgan is expected to return tonight against France at Raymond James Stadium in an exhibition match.

"Just to have all the girls come up to me and say they are happy I'm back and happy to see me back on the field is great," Morgan said. "It's a good motivator for me to get myself back to where I was before."

Morgan initially was diagnosed with a sprained ankle in October. But it turned out to be much more. Morgan had a bone bruise that regressed to a stress reaction.

Though not as severe as a stress fracture, Morgan was relegated to long periods of nonweight bearing.

"There was no surgery so I had to let time be the healer," Morgan said. "Mentally, for me, that was hard. I just had to have patience."

Morgan made her season debut last week for the Portland Thorns, her Women's Premier Soccer League team. She played all 90 minutes, and this week participated fully with the national team during training sessions at USF.

"I'm fully recovered now, and my ankle and foot feel good," Morgan said. "And now I'm back out here with the national team and a little step behind on fitness, but that's a matter of just getting a few games in."

New coach Jill Ellis wouldn't commit to Morgan's name in the starting lineup but expected her star to see some time.

"Is she 90 minutes fit at the international level? I'm sure she would attest that she's not yet," Ellis said. "But for these games we can definitely bring her in for periods."

Though Morgan's presence in the U.S. camp is a good sign, the team needs her match-ready come October when it begins World Cup qualifying.

"We need to bring her back pretty quick," Ellis said. "I've gotten more from her in this camp than I thought I would. But she's completed every session and appears to be pain free."

Morgan's accomplishments have been prodigious in a short time. She was the youngest player on the U.S. team that was second at the 2011 World Cup and scored in both the semifinals and final.

Morgan, 24, really took off in 2012, netting the extra-time (123rd minute) winner in the Olympic semifinal win against Canada. She finished 2012 leading the United States in goals (28), multigoal games (nine), assists (21) and points (77). Morgan joined Mia Hamm as the only two U.S. women's national team players with at least 20 goals and 20 assists in a calendar year.

But for all her onfield exploits, Morgan has been equally as impressive off.

She has garnered endorsement deals with Coca-Cola, Nike, Panasonic and Chapstick, to name a few. Morgan has twice appeared in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, walked the runway at a New York fashion show, penned a book aimed at middle schoolers and even rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on the anniversary of 9/11.

"I truly love what I do and I think it comes out on the soccer field, and it's my personal time to have fun and let loose and be silly," Morgan said. "The photo shoots and appearances and this and that are more work-related things. But I can have fun doing that too."

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