Alex Morgan says the US women's soccer team has 'really big shoes to fill' as longtime superstars near retirement
- Alex Morgan thinks the USWNT has "big shoes to fill" as some of its superstars near retirement.
- Carli Lloyd will step away later this year, while Megan Rapinoe is still mulling over her future.
- "Those are huge players ... who lead by example."
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Though the Tokyo Olympics are just barely in the rearview mirror, Alex Morgan and the US Women's National Team are already looking ahead to what comes next.
"You look at the next big tournament, which is the World Cup, and we have two years," Morgan told Insider. "People ask when you start preparing for that, and you start now."
"You start talking about it, you start making every decision based on it," she added.
With the 2020 games postponed by a full year, the USWNT has even less time than usual to prepare for the next World Cup. And while Morgan doesn't foresee "huge turnover" on the team's roster between now and then, she knows the four-time World Cup champions will be missing at least one - and perhaps two - key pieces headed into the 2023 World Cup hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
Carli Lloyd, the legendary 39-year-old striker who collected two World Cups, two Olympic gold medals, and an Olympic bronze medal in her 16 years with the USWNT, announced her retirement from the national team shortly after this summer's Olympics. And Megan Rapinoe, another veteran prolific scorer for the USWNT, is mulling over her own future with the stars and stripes, telling ESPN's Sarah Spain and Jason Fitz that she needs "to take some time to think about" whether or not she wants to step away.
Morgan knows it'll be a challenge to replace Lloyd's and Rapinoe's contributions on the pitch and in the locker room.
"Those are huge players," Morgan said. "Not only huge players in the moment, like big-time players but actually vocal players. They're players who lead by example, players who have really taken on this team as who they are and done everything for this team for 10, 15 years."
"And that's a huge accomplishment to those players, but it's also really big shoes to fill," she added.
Of course, the USWNT is as deep a team as any on the planet, so head coach Vlatko Andonovski has plenty of offensive talent to work with between returning players and up-and-coming stars. Alongside Morgan, veterans Tobin Heath and Christen Press are likely to feature prominently on the front line.
Lynn Williams, who has less international experience than the aforementioned stars, will look to carry her stellar play during the Olympics into the USWNT's bid to three-peat as World Cup champions.
"We're very fortunate to have had a very similar team from the World Cup to the Olympics," Morgan said. "It doesn't always happen like that."
Some younger players are poised to breakthrough for the national team, too. Sophia Smith, a 21-year-old striker who spent much of the lead-up to the Olympics with the USWNT, has already gotten called up for the team's September matches. So too has Mallory Pugh, the 23-year-old forward who was with the USWNT in France for the 2019 World Cup and Rio for the 2016 Olympics.
Though those two and midfielder Andi Sullivan are the only non-Olympic roster members invited to the team's latest training camp, other budding stars may very well find their way into the fold in the lead-up to the World Cup. National Women's Soccer League standouts like Bethany Balcer, Ashley Hatch, Trinity Rodman, and Ashley Sanchez could all get their chances in the near future, as could UCLA junior Mia Fishel. And Margaret Purce, the outside back who narrowly missed the Olympic roster, could potentially make her mark in Andonovski's attack given her offensive prowess for the NWSL's NJ/NY Gotham.
Morgan, Heath, Press, Rapinoe (should she return), Kelley O'Hara, and team captain Becky Sauerbrunn are among the most experienced players on the national team. But a younger generation of stars - including Crystal Dunn, Julie Ertz, Abby Dahlkemper, Sam Mewis, Lindsey Horan, and Rose Lavelle - have already become leaders in their own right and are poised to grab the baton from those veterans.
The USWNT will miss its longtime superstars, to be sure. But with talent abound and a strong contingent of returners, Andonovski and company are positioned just right to continue the USWNT's reign atop the women's soccer world.
"As great as the Olympics was, and as much as we're proud of the bronze medal, we look forward now," Morgan said.Read the original article on Insider