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Morgan's return one to forget as Flash flood buries Thorns
Hey, welcome back, Alex Morgan!
The return of America women soccer's biggest name to the Thorns' lineup took on a macabre twist Saturday night at Providence Park in a rather shocking 5-0 National Women's Soccer League loss to Western New York.
Everything seemed set up for the return by Morgan -- who hadn't played a game since last November with the U.S. national team vs. Brazil -- to be a grand occasion.
With the Thorns wanting to prove a 4-1 loss at Boston on May 28 was an anomaly, with what coach Paul Riley termed a "brilliant week of practice" behind them, with Flash star Abby Wambach out with a knee injury, with four key Portland players making their season debut and with a partisan throng of 13,838 poised to chant its loyal support, "I thought the odds were with us," Morgan said.
"I'd have bet money on us in Las Vegas," Riley said.
Riley would have lost the lavender tie and dress shirt he wore to a somber post-game news conference, too. On this night, Rose City was Roast City. It was the most goals allowed and the most decisive defeat in the club's 1 1/2-year history.
After Portland goalkeeper Nadine Angerer was ejected in the 27th minute for a reckless foul, the Thorns were forced to go with backup Michelle Betos and a 10-player lineup the rest of the way.
Betos immediately faced a penalty kick -- Carli Lloyd converted to give Western New York a 2-0 lead -- and things spiraled for the local lasses from there.
"I've been really looking forward to this game," Morgan said. "We put a really great eleven out there on the field. A couple of unfortunate turn of events. we're down 2-zero, 3-zero, and we can't get our feet under ourselves.
"I had a lot of hope going into this game. We were fielding three, four new players. but we didn't work hard for each other. We were so predictable. It was not a good thing at all."
Riley's post-game sound bites were of the confessional nature:
"We just didn't get it done tonight after the red card, we were trying to survive. we were chasing the game got ourselves rattled. tried to stop the bleeding. couldn't have envisioned this performance we're very off track right now."
Morgan wound up playing the full 90 minutes in her first game with the Thorns since coming on as a substitute in their 2-0 victory over the Flash in the NWSL championship game last Sept. 1. She hadn't started a game for Portland since suffering an ankle injury against Real Salt Lake on Aug. 7.
"I was happy with Alex," Riley said. "I feel bad. I wasn't expecting her to play 90 tonight. We figured 65, 70, something like that. The week (of practice) went so well. We felt she was ready to go, but she had to go a little bit more than we expected. The red card changed our substitution pattern."
Morgan was a factor early in the second half, forcing three big scoring chances, though she connected on none of them.
And in the end, the player Wambach told me last year was "the face of American women's soccer" was gassed.
"The first 65 minutes I felt good, but I have to be realistic," said Morgan, who turns 25 on July 2. "This is seven months to the day that I last played a game. Keeping that in mind, I'm happy individually with how I did. As a team, it's frustrating."
In the game's closing minutes, "I was done," Morgan allowed. "I couldn't go any longer, unfortunately. We only had 10 men. We were out of subs. But I couldn't last past the 70th minute. I haven't trained for that period of time. I've not been fit. I could tell that. People could tell that by the 75th minute."
The lithe Morgan moved well and was a factor until she had nothing left in her tank.
"She's going to get better with more training, but she caused problems," Riley said. "Her runs were very good. She got in really good areas. She just didn't get a bounce of the ball."
Morgan's debut came in the 10th game for Portland (4-4-2). Her second match with the local side won't be for awhile. Now she is off to join the national team for a pair of exhibitions, the first against France in Tampa, Fla., next Saturday.
"I just need to get myself together and be positive moving forward," she said. "Hopefully, I can make improvements and recover. Even though my injury has recovered physically and mentally, I'm still recovering."
I think she meant she still needs to get into game shape, needs to get accustomed again to competing at the highest level, needs to become Alex Morgan again.
Of course, Morgan is more than just a star with the U.S. team that won gold at the London Olympics, than the stylish striker who was named U.S. soccer player female player of the year in 2012.
She's a brand unto herself, with her 1.35 million Twitter followers, as the highest-paid soccer player (man or woman) in the USA, with an annual income of more than $1 million including endorsements from Nike, Coca-Cola, Bridgestone, Panasonic and Chapstick.
Then there was her appearance in the 2012 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and her standing as one of the hottest female athletes on the planet.
Soon she will be a married woman. In December, she announced her engagement to Servando Carrasco, then with the MLS Seattle Sounders, now a member of the Houston Dynamo.
"We've set a date for this winter, for sure, though I'm not going to say the exact date," she told me.
Is it more difficult for the couple to get together with Carrasco now playing his soccer in Texas?
"It's a lot longer than a 2 1/2-hour drive," Morgan said. "We have to make do with what we have."
She paused, then added with a smile, "There's a team here called the Timbers. Who knows? Maybe one day we'll play with the same organization."
All good stuff to think about. A whole lot better than what Morgan and her teammates suffered through Saturday night on the pitch at Providence Park.