Winning this tournament is about more than acquiring another title for world champion and Olympic gold medalist Alex Morgan. A successful World Cup could accelerate her fight for change in women's football.
No. 13 is one of the leading players on the US team. Alex Morgan is fast, fearless and lethal inside the box, and the clinical striker captured the US's attention at the 2011 Women's World Cup. As the US's youngest player, she scored crucial goals in both the semifinal and final matches, despite the team's eventual loss to Japan.
Hampered by a knee injury in 2015, Morgan was not at full strength at the previous World Cup. But this time, she's in top form. In 2018 Morgan scored 18 goals, averaging nearly a goal a game. At the age of 29, she is sixth on the USA's all-time scoring list. The US team is yet to lose a game in which Morgan scores.
In April, Morgan scored her historic 100th career goal. "She's in rare air in terms of where she is," said national coach Jill Ellis. "But, obviously having the privilege of getting to know her on and off the field, what makes Alex, really, is that push to continue to be better. She's not satisfied, I guess is what I'm saying." Often a game-changer, Ellis is expecting her to add to her tally in France.
Morgan, along with her US teammates, are among the leading voices in the quest for equality in football.
Drive for more
Morgan's drive to be a difference-maker continues off the field as well. The co-captain has been a key player in her team's fight for equal pay. Hers is the first name listed on the gender discrimination lawsuit filed against US Soccer by all 28 team members on March 8, International Women's Day. The players accuse their federation of paying "only lip service to gender equality."
At international level, the women's team not only outperforms the men's team on the field, but draws even more attention. Some 25 million people watched the US women defeat Japan in the 2015 World Cup final in Canada. Their unique position in comparison to most other nations gives them an advantage for rallying for change. Since March, other countries' women's teams are following suit.
The recent lawsuit is part of a battle the national team has been waging for years. "It's only fair for us to carry on that fight among women in sports," Morgan told DW. "We see ourselves as pioneers in women's soccer and we want to continue to push the boundaries in that." Julie Foudy, one of the original pioneers from the iconic 1999 US squad, added, "It's not just about equal pay. It's about equal marketing, equal staffing, equal investment, equal support and it comes in so many different forms. To see them continue that fight forward is something that brings a lot of pride."
A role model for the masses
A media sensation since her early 20s, the Californian is a fan favorite. She draws roars from hordes of young admirers because they've read the best-selling children's books Morgan authored. Or they have watched the teenage feature film Morgan starred in as herself. Apart from recognizing her face from countless magazine covers, billboards and TV ads, fans distinguish her from afar by her breast-cancer-pink hairband. Even her hairband has its own Twitter account.
One of the most celebrated athletes in the country, Morgan is well aware of her wide sphere of influence. With 5.8 million Instagram followers, she makes a point to never say anything negative. "She takes her job seriously as a role model," confirmed her mother, Pam Morgan. "Every day she has conscious thoughts about that." Through her many activities off the pitch, Morgan has created a multi-million-dollar brand for herself, but also garnered more interest in the women's sport. As a member of Common Goal, she donates 1% of her earnings to football related charities.
Showtime in France
It's widely believed that the World Cup in France could signal a leap forward in the development of women's football worldwide. Sold-out stadiums and record viewings are expected. Team USA and Morgan expect no less.
Morgan is no stranger to France. In 2017 she won a Women's Champions League title while on loan at Olympique Lyon. To return to Lyon, where the World Cup final will take place, is Morgan's aim. With the whole world watching, few could be better prepared for the pressure than Morgan. As female athletic icon Billie Jean King once famously said, "Pressure is a privilege."
The USA take on Thailand in their first match of the tournament on June 11 in Reims.