Alex Morgan makes a huge difference

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Coming into the third and final game of group play, the United States had yet to come close to playing a complete soccer game. However, with the insertion of Alex Morgan, back from a knee injury, into the starting line up, they did so for the entire 65 minutes she was on the field against Nigeria.

Alex Morgan (YouTube)
Alex Morgan (YouTube)

Although she never scored a goal and at times her touch and timing were off a bit, Morgan managed to inspire the creativity and team flow that was missing in their previous games against Australia and Sweden. Simply put, she made all of her teammates better in their 1-0 victory.

From the opening kick off, which nearly led to a goal in the first thirty seconds of play, to her near miss from seven yards out in the 62nd minute, Morgan was a force on the field. Best of all, her play was instantly contagious and the entire US squad controlled possession throughout the match. Had their play on set pieces been better, the game could have easily been a route. Instead, the difference was a single goal by Abby Wambach seconds before the end of the first half.

Still, with Morgan on the pitch, the American women were running Nigeria ragged with their creative give and go passing that managed to include everyone. There was just no defending the endless assaults, which at times reminded me of George Foreman pounding away at Muhammad Ali in the Rumble In the Jungle. Only this time, the end result was a knockout punch by big George just before half time.

The only thing missing was perhaps better execution on set pieces and a little more patience when finishing an attack. If anything, this was probably due more to the Americans not playing their best lineup for the last two months. There is no doubt they are a more dangerous and confident bunch when Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach can feed off one another.

But make no mistake, this was more than just the Alex and Abby show. There was a constant flow of the ball with plenty of aggressive creativity among all the US players. Megan Rapinoe was dangerously close twice in the first half with hard shots on goal. Tobin Heath let an excellent opportunity to score get past her in the 15th minute, and there was a missed handball call inside the penalty box that should have resulted in another score. And there was a nice goal rightly called back due to an offside. Yes, the United States was ever so close to being up five or six goals at the half.

Abby Wambach (YouTube)
Abby Wambach (YouTube)

The biggest question that remains now is whether or not Wambach is able to play a full 90 minutes. She definitely looked tired throughout the second half. If the Americans are to make a long run in this cup, the coaching staff may have to decide if they are better off with a tired Wambach in the second half or to sub her out.

Somehow, you can’t help but think it won’t matter as long as Morgan is able to play a full game. She is one of those special athletes who others look to and feed off of to make themselves better. It is easy to see why she is the face of US Women’s Soccer. Without her, they are just a good squad lacking just a little here and there.

But with her, the potential for greatness is present and the thought of winning their first World Cup since 1999 becomes a very real possibility.