USWNT veterans Alex Morgan, Becky Sauerbrunn embracing new roles on young roster


On Tuesday, about an hour before the United States women’s national team played in its first CONCACAF W Gold Cup match, Alex Morgan posted the tweet of the day.

Morgan had only been added to the roster Monday afternoon after Mia Fishel tore the ACL in her right knee during training. And per CONCACAF rules, Morgan had to wear Fishel’s No. 7 jersey instead of her normal No. 13.

So not only was Morgan not called up, but now she couldn’t even wear the same number she’s worn for most of her career? 

The veteran striker took it all in stride.

After a disappointing World Cup performance in which Morgan didn’t score once, the experienced playmaker wasn’t called up in December for the last camp of 2023. A lot of veterans weren’t, which created room for younger players to get their feet wet in the national team environment. But then Morgan wasn’t invited into this camp either, which meant she wouldn’t be playing in the inaugural Gold Cup, the USWNT’s first major tournament since the World Cup.

Her exclusion made headlines, especially given that the 2024 Paris Olympics begin in July. Would Morgan make that team or not? Interim head coach Twila Kilgore said that Morgan, as well as any other player not invited to this camp, would still be in the mix.

From the outside, it seems Morgan has taken her multiple roster omissions with grace. She started Tuesday’s 5-0 win over the Dominican Republic on the bench. In the 67th minute, she subbed on for Lynn Williams and in stoppage time, was selected to take a penalty kick.

Morgan and penalty kicks haven’t gone hand in hand recently. She missed one in the Americans’ opening World Cup match against Vietnam and then was taken out of the game before the U.S. went to PKs with Sweden in the round of 16 match that it lost. Morgan missed from the spot again during an October friendly against Colombia, which ended in a scoreless tie.

So when cameras zoomed in on her this time, it was clear how big the moment was. For one, she hadn’t scored for the national team in nearly a year, and two, there’s a sense that she needs to reclaim her spot in order to make the Olympics roster, which is limited to 18 players. 

When she converted, Morgan pumped her fist and hugged her teammates.

“Just another player who was staying ready, came in, and was ready to embrace the challenge right away,” Kilgore said Thursday ahead of the USWNT’s second group stage match against Argentina.

“Obviously getting a goal under her belt in the first game with limited minutes is great. And she’s performing. She’s looking very sharp, hungry and we expect great things from her when her name is called upon.”

Asked directly why Morgan wasn’t on the initial roster, Kilgore said, “we’re very fortunate to have quite a big player pool that we’re confident in. And when it came time to pick the initial roster, we went with the players that we felt were going to help us the most and help us see the combinations of players that were gonna help us the most and were the most ready. 

“But that doesn’t mean that there weren’t a variety of other players that we could have called in. That’s one of the hardest things about this job is putting the rosters together. So we simply were taking a look at different players at the time and utilizing different players.”

The same thing goes for center back Becky Sauerbrunn, who was called in a week before Morgan to replace injured defender Alana Cook. Sauerbrunn, who missed the World Cup due to a foot injury, also had to wear a different jersey number, donning Cook’s No. 5 instead of her traditional No. 4.

Sauerbrunn wore the captain’s armband and played the full 90 minutes. 

“She was ready to come in, ready to step into it right away,” Kilgore said. “I thought she showed great disguise on the ball and patience on the ball, which is important against teams that like to sit back and are really well organized defensively.”

Kilgore said more importantly, Sauerbrunn has influenced the squad since the moment she arrived at camp.

“It’s just Becky being Becky,” Kilgore said. “Which means lending herself and her experience to anybody that needs those things while also making sure she’s performing at her very best. 

“I see her spending time with lots of different groups of players, which is really enjoyable to watch in the environment. Everybody wants to be around her, which I think is very important. She’s spending a lot of time with Lindsey [Horan], which is also important. Lindsey has been doing a great job leading the team as our captain. And then it’s just been great to have veteran leadership in the squad.”

This is a transitional time for the USWNT and the Emma Hayes era is beginning. But Morgan and Sauerbrunn aren’t done yet.

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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Alex Morgan

Becky Sauerbrunn

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