Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Local Weather

Mostly Cloudy

62°F

Portland

Mostly Cloudy

Humidity: 78%

Wind: 10 mph

  • 21 Sep 2014

    Partly Cloudy 86°F 60°F

  • 22 Sep 2014

    Partly Cloudy 79°F 61°F


Alex Morgan on top of the soccer world -- and Portlandia

There were several good things for the bright blue eyes of Alex Morgan to take in Sunday at Jeld-Wen Field.

Morgan met up with friend and U.S. national team teammate Abby Wambach, a member of the visiting Western New York Flash. Morgan's Portland Thorns scored their first goal in nearly a month. There was plenty of activity in the Thorns' offense. And Karina LeBlanc's diving save of a Wambach penalty kick late in the game preserved a 1-1 National Women's Soccer League draw.

Despite taking half of Portland's 20 shots, though, Morgan's goal-scoring drought continued, to which she admitted a bit of consternation.

"I want to contribute more to the team," said the Thorns' star forward, who hasn't scored a goal since June 6, a span of four games. "I got a lot of shots on the ball, but none that went into the net. I continue to get unlucky. Hopefully, one day I'll break that bad spell."

I didn't take Morgan's "unlucky" comment as brazen, or about making excuses. By my count, she had a half-dozen excellent scoring chances. There were some near-misses and some good saves by Flash goalkeeper Adrianna Franch. I took it to mean, those are the breaks of the game, and the breaks have gone the other way lately.

Morgan wasn't grumpy about it. She willingly signed dozens of autographs for adoring fans after the game, then spent 10 minutes with a reporter she'd never met, pleasantly answering questions before heading off for a shower and a dinner with family.

At 24, Morgan is on top of the women's soccer world. Olympic star. Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue model. Good looks, a great mind -- she graduated from Cal-Berkeley a term early with a degree in political economics -- and status as a big shot in her sport, though she doesn't flaunt it.

"That's what's great about her," LeBlanc said. "She could act like, 'I'm Alex Morgan,' but she just acts like any other teammate, even if she is one of the best players in the world.

"I played against Alex for so many years. You have the respect from playing against her as an opponent. When you're on her side, you love it. I'm a bit of a goofball, and she just takes me on. If you do something great, she'll be the first to tell you great job. If you mess up, she'll hold you accountable, too. She's a true professional. That's why I love playing with her."

Morgan bears status as "the face of U.S. women's soccer" according to none other than Wambach, herself a legend in her own time.

"Alex has all the tools," said Wambach, the FIFA world player of the year in 2012. "When it comes to the national team, she has proven over the last few years she's top of the world, and I'm excited to see what she'll do with the rest of her career."

The 5-11, 180-pound Wambach and Morgan -- lithe at 5-7 and 120 -- couldn't be more different in playing style. Wambach is meat and potatoes, a presence in the trenches who gets plenty of defensive attention and would seem to have an abundance of flop-ability as well.

"Abby's very physical," said Morgan, who has played with Wambach on the U.S. national team the past three years. "It seems like she's diving here and there, but people are putting all their strength and muscle into bodying her up. It's difficult playing against her. She's bigger and taller, and you need to be way more physical with her."

Morgan, meanwhile, bears a coltish look as she glides up and down the pitch, creating plenty of scoring opportunities with what Wambach describes as explosive tendencies.

"Alex is strong on the ball, she's smarter than you'd think for a 24-year old and she's so physical and athletic," said Wambach, 33, who is building a house in Portland that she plans to make an offseason home. "What I like the most about her, she's willing to take chances in spots where most people don't. She's strong enough to get her foot around certain balls, and her explosion makes her so much more dominant than many other players, especially against defenders trying to change directions.

"They say a good offense beats a good defense, because a defense is always reacting. When you're reacting to a player like Alex, who is strong and confident and with her explosion, it's difficult to defend against."

Morgan and Wambach exchanged hugs after the game, two superstars in their sport intersecting at the apex of NWSL soccer these days.

"I know she was looking forward to getting to Portland because it's a great city and she wanted to experience this atmosphere," Morgan said.

Sunday's crowd of 13,021 was about what the Thorns have averaged for home dates this season, triple the next-best attendance figure in the first-year women's league. Morgan, a Diamond Bar, Calif., native who played four years of collegiate soccer at Cal before turning pro, has a genuine affection already for the City of Roses and its enormous soccer fan base.

"I love Portland," Morgan told me. "The fans welcomed us right away. It has been a great atmosphere every single game. It's by far the best place to play, because of the organization and the fans. It's a great stadium, right downtown, and everything is set up for us. The owner, Merritt Paulson, has put in such great effort to put this team together. It's a part of the Timbers organization. Other teams (in the NWSL) don't have a men's team with them.

"And from a personal standpoint outside of soccer, it's a great city. I'm really trying to enjoy it as much as I can."

On Saturday, Morgan spent time at the Mississippi Street Fair. She goes to farmers' markets every weekend she is in town.

"My family is in town every weekend, and I'm always trying to take them to new restaurants," she said. "I go to the Eater PDX website and look at the essential 38 restaurants and try to pick one. I like barbecue -- tried Smokehouse 21 this week. I find myself trying new things in Northwest Portland a lot."

After playing with Western New York and Seattle in different leagues the previous two years, Morgan believes she has found a professional home, at least in the short term. She is tied to being back with the Thorns for at least another year -- and perhaps another three, depending on her status with the national team.

"I am here next year, and I'm happy about that, because I love it here," she said. "I'm renting right now. With my boyfriend (Servando Carrasco, who plays for the Sounders) in Seattle, we're trying to figure things out, but I really like it here. I'm looking for something more permanent."

Morgan told Sports Illustrated a few weeks ago she has taken to watching "Portlandia" to find out more about the people in her new city. I forgot to ask about it, but I'm thinking, she's OK with us. We are certainly OK with her, judging by the celebrity she has, and the way she handles it.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Twitter: @kerryeggers