Abby Wambach is congratulated by teammate Alex Morgan after scoring a goal on a penalty kick late in the second half against Korea Republic during the game at Gillette Stadium on June 15, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
Alex Morgan announced her return in emphatic fashion and helped the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team maintain a long-standing streak with a stellar second-half performance Thursday night.
Coming on as a sub to start the second half, the forward scored a pair of goals to help Team USA earn a 2-2 draw with France in a friendly at Rentschler Field.
The game was a matchup of FIFA’s No. 1 ranked team, the United States, and fourth-ranked club in France and was played in front of an enthusiastic crowd of 14,695 fans.
France led the game 1-0 on a first-half penalty conversion by Louisa Necib and 2-1 on a goal by Amandine Henry in the second half but each time Morgan came through with an equalizer.
It has been a long road back for Morgan, who scored her first international goals in seven months and was playing in just her second game for the United States in 2014. Last October, while practicing with the national team, Morgan suffered what was thought to be a sprained left ankle but turned out to be a stress reaction.
What followed was a seven-month layoff that ended when Morgan logged 90 minutes in her return with the Portland Thorns of the NWSL June 8. She got her first national team action when she entered during the 49th minute in the Americans' 1-0 victory against France in Tampa, Florida, last Saturday.
On Thursday, Morgan took the field to start the second half and was flying around the pitch, eager to make an impact. She did so in the 56th minute when she took a pass from Allie Long in the middle of the field and found room at the top of the penalty area. Her left-footed blast from 25 yards glanced off the inside of the left post and into the net past French goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi to make it a 1-1 game.
The tally electrified the crowd and was Morgan’s first goal of the year and first goal since she recorded a brace against Canada June 2 of last year. After seeing the ball go into the back of the net, Morgan jumped over the boards lining the field and celebrated with the American Outlaws' fan club.
“I don’t remember much, I just remember turning and seeing the far post open, and I hit it as well as I could've and just from there I felt so happy,” said Morgan, a gold medalist in London in 2012. "I felt like crying, it was emotional but too early for tears so I just wanted to celebrate with the Outlaws, it’s always good to have their support.”
France took the lead back in the 68th minute when Amandine Henry scored unassisted after she intercepted a U.S. clearance attempt and beat a diving Ashlyn Harris to put France on top, 2-0.
As the game wore on it looked like the United States was going to suffer a rare loss on home soil. The Americans entered the game 74-0-10 at home since Nov. 6, 2004, and 14-0-1 all time against France.
Morgan then came through late to keep the streak alive. If her first goal was a reminder of her power, the second was a reminder of her class and skill.
Taking a throw in from Tobin Heath on the left side, Morgan split two French defenders in the box and got off a right-footed shot that glanced off Bouhaddi and into the net to make it 2-2.
Morgan’s goal-scoring exploits were a welcome sight to U.S. coach Jill Ellis, who was leading the team for the second game since being named the national team coach.
“I wasn't expecting a lot out of her when I initially came in, but through the camp she has done really well and in the games she has improved,” Ellis said of Morgan. “And I’m really pleased for her, she has worked really, really hard to come back from her injury.”
The goals were Morgan’s 45th and 46th for the national team, allowing her to pass Julie Foudy (45 goals) for 10th on the all-time goal scoring list.
“I just feel like I'm back and I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing scoring goals,” Morgan said. “I feel good, I’m back from a long road back after the injury and I’m ready to do whatever I can to improve and help the team improve."
With no future international friendly matches on the horizon, the team members will now return to their clubs and look ahead to CONCACAF Women’s World Cup qualifying, which will take place in the United States in October. The Women's World Cup will take place in Canada next summer.
"I think we played a really good team and I'm happy we fought back for the tie," Morgan said. "This game is a great game for World Cup qualification. You can't get a better team than France to come here to the U.S. and play us twice. It’s a great opportunity for us to try out new things and see what works and what doesn't. I think that there are lot of positives to take moving forward from this.”
Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. John Nestor is a Connecticut-based freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org.