Alex Morgan competes at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup on June 11, 2019 in Reims, France.
PARIS -- Before a ball was kicked at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, Alex Morgan already was well established as a face of the U.S. national soccer team.
And for good reason, given her ability to score goals at a ridiculous pace, thanks to her fleet feet that have ripped apart opposing defenses for years.
Already a 2012 Olympic gold medalist and 2015 World Cup champion, Morgan’s face has adorned magazines home and abroad as a player to watch in the tournament. She also was mentioned as one of the top five stars to watch in France, by sports daily newspaper L’Equipe.
Some athletes fail to live up to the hype.
For one game at least, Morgan met, if not exceeded, those great expectations for the defending champions when she struck for a tournament-tying record of five goals in Team USA’s 13-0 thrashing of Thailand in the team’s Group F opener on Tuesday.
Heck, she even exceeded her own hopes and wildest dreams.
“I had a personal goal for three,” she said. “That was what I was possibly hoping to reach for.”
Morgan’s performance got international headlines, although she downplayed her individual glory.
“I believe we all are ambassadors of the game globally,” said Morgan, who is playing in her third World Cup. “We have to think that way. Whatever we do or say or the way we play, especially in a World Cup, everything is going to be magnified. We have the microphone and we have the platform here to be able to show all the training that we’ve been going through over these last years, all our individual journeys to get to where we are today for the World Cup.”
Let’s be realistic. Morgan, who turns 30 on July 2, accomplished her feat against an outmatched side that is only at the cusp of its international soccer journey. But it’s not easy to score five goals in a game, let alone a month. As former U.S. men’s player Ante Razov once said, “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.”
The performance also comes as a welcome contrast to Morgan’s performance at the 2015 World Cup in Canada, when the Diamond Bar, California, native also came in with high expectations but was limited by a knee injury. Having to work her way into the lineup while recuperating, Morgan scored just once during the winning campaign in Canada.
This time, she entered the competition healthy.
“I’m feeling in peak form right now,” she said. “I feel great.”
Not necessarily what Chile (June 16) and Sweden (June 21), Team USA’s next two opponents, wanted to hear.
Against Thailand Morgan equaled the tournament record set by U.S. soccer legend Michelle Akers, who connected five times in a 7-0 quarterfinal victory over Chinese Taipei in 1991.
“To tie Michelle Akers’ record is obviously incredible, but just even more than that this was such a great team performance for us,” Morgan said, deflecting credit. “We were able to execute on so many chances that we had. We showed how diverse our attack really is and we know that every goal counts in the group stages, and that’s why we had to keep going.”
Akers, who holds the record for the most goals in tournament (10 in 1991), congratulated Morgan for her ‘five’ achievement on Twitter:
ALEX MORGAN!!!!!!! 5 GOALS in ONE WC GAME! We are now together on this incredible record and I expect MUCH MORE TO COME! CONGRATS and SO HAPPY for YOU and the USA🇺🇸💪 Enjoy the night and CHEERS to all. On to the next game! @alexmorgan13 @USWNT https://t.co/j6TZuWiMWS— Michelle Akers (@MichelleAkers10) June 12, 2019
To truly appreciate Morgan’s accomplishment, it must be noted that the top two goal-scorers of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, Germany’s Celia Sasic and Team USA’s Carli Lloyd, needed seven matches to reach a tournament-best six goals apiece.
Scoring five goals in a player’s first game of any competition doesn’t ensure she will keep on filling the net. But U.S. coach Jill Ellis felt those goals could only bolster Morgan’s confidence.
“It’s huge,” Ellis said. “I thought she was tight and tidy in the box. She pulled the trigger well and we saw some world-class finishes. You can see the feeling. That’s the big part of it. You want to have that feeling. It’s a self-belief, it’s a confidence, it’s an energy, call it whatever you want. Goal-scorers have to do that. We know the word drought, but when you have a deluge of goals like that, it’s important. It’s good feeling. It boosts the confidence.”
Morgan connected for her first goal in the 12th minute, heading in from five yards off Kelley O’Hara’s right-wing cross. She added four in the second half — in the 53rd, 74th, 81st and 87th minutes.
They were coming so fast and furious it was easy to lose count.
“Alex getting four goals was crazy,” said midfielder Samantha Mewis, who had two goals herself.
Someone told her Morgan actually had scored five.
“Five goals? Holy ... My God, I thought she got four,” Mewis said with a surprised look on her face. “Oh my God, she got five!”
The Americans scored six over the final 16 minutes, as critics claimed they were piling it on.
Morgan defended the prolific scoring, noting that goal differential could go a long way in determining which team finishes atop Group F.
“When you look at the score line, yes, it’s a high one, but at the end of the day, when you’re playing in a World Cup, every single goal may count,” she said. “That was what we were told before the game and that’s why we had to keep going.”
With all the records the Americans shattered, they also produced a first for a men’s or women’s World Cup team — back-to-back hat-tricks in a championship game and first game at the next tournament four years later. Lloyd connected for a hat-trick in the 5-2 win over Japan at Canada 2015.
So, someone like Lloyd will understand Morgan’s mentality.
“As a forward your job is to score goals,” she said. “To bang five in it’s pretty great. She’s probably feeling great. It’s good to have her get all those goals. It’s a good start.”
Just how well Alex Morgan finishes her plays the rest of the way could very well determine how the U.S. finishes in the tournament.
Michael Lewis, who covers soccer for Newsday, has written about the sport for four decades and has written six books about soccer. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.