Alex Morgan didn’t get a heads-up from FIFA that she was among the three finalists for The Best FIFA Women’s Player—the 2019 world player of the year award—so Morgan only found out with the rest of us on Monday morning that she was joining Megan Rapinoe and England’s Lucy Bronze in Milan on September 23 for the gala FIFA event that will honor the top players in the sport over the past year.
By the time Morgan spoke to SI.com on Monday, she had known she was one of the finaly three for only an hour—barely enough time to accept congratulatory phone calls from her mom, Pamela, and dad, Michael.
Remarkably, Morgan, 30, hadn’t made the final three of FIFA’s top individual award since 2012. Seven long years had passed, years in which she had certainly enjoyed team successes—like winning two World Cups—but had yet to repeat the breakout individual year she had enjoyed as a 23-year-old. And so Morgan made sure to take some time to reflect on Monday what she had experienced during that time as a player.
“I had quite a bit of injuries in 2014 and ‘15, and I think that set me back temporarily, but since then I’ve wanted to try and work on my game in the way I felt I was lacking in,” Morgan said. “Awareness was one of them, just my first touch. And [playing with] my back to goal was another. The last part of it was just finding myself in a happy place in the game again, and that was going to France [to play for Lyon on loan in 2017].”
“That brought me to 2019 and the World Cup,” she continued. “I wouldn’t say I played amazing every single game, but I think there were certain games where I stepped up and certain games where my teammates stepped up. Overall, I was really happy with my performance during the World Cup … I was just happy to see [the FIFA Best finalists] and happy to be alongside my teammate Megan, who is completely deserving of it.”
Morgan is with the USWNT in Minnesota for Tuesday’s Victory Tour friendly against Portugal (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET), though she won’t be playing due to following concussion protocol after suffering a head blow in a recent NWSL game. But there was plenty for her to talk about on and off the field, to wit:
• The USWNT coaching search
New USWNT general manager Kate Markgraf is conducting the search for a coach to replace Jill Ellis for November’s friendlies, which take place just eight months before next summer’s Tokyo Olympics. Markgraf has been meeting with a few U.S. veteran players to get their sense of things, and Morgan was one of them.
“I had a really good conversation with her recently,” Morgan said. “Kate is making her rounds within the team, and it’s great to have her in for the first time since she was a player. I think she has a heavy task ahead of her in hiring the coach, but also there’s a lot of things that us players are still learning on what the GM’s role is given the fact we haven’t had one before. It’s nice to have her in and kind of clarify and answer some of those questions, and also for us to kind of give input.”
When asked if the USWNT head coach should be a woman, Morgan said she felt the new coach should be the best candidate for the job regardless of gender.
• The USWNT players gender-discrimination case against U.S. Soccer
Asked if it’s accurate to say the two sides are really far apart from each other in the wake of a breakdown in mediation talks, Morgan said this:
“For us players, we have been fighting for what we deserve, and that is to be treated equally to our male counterparts and to be compensated equally. We have not ever been given the opportunity to do so from our employer [U.S. Soccer], so for us we do see that as definitely a few steps, to say the least, away from each other in coming to an agreement and collaborating on how we can move forward together and turn this into something more optimistic looking forward.
“That’s not to say we aren’t optimistic about the future,” she added. “I think both sides are going to need to dig in a lot more, and we have done so in the last few years, really, since we filed the EEOC claim. And we will continue to do so until we feel like we are being given our value.”
• Morgan’s thoughts on Cristiano Ronaldo
When Morgan is in Milan for the FIFA gala, it’s likely that she’ll come face to face with Ronaldo, who’s one of the three finalists for the top men’s player award. After prosecutors in Nevada decided not to pursue a criminal charge of sexual assault against Ronaldo in July, Morgan wrote a Twitter post saying, “Now this is great journalism,” and cited a story headlined “Ronaldo Is An Icon of Corruption In Sports” by Brenda Elsey and Jennifer Doyle for Vice on the wider context of the sexual assault allegation against Ronaldo.
The reaction to Morgan’s Twitter post from Ronaldo fans around the world was severe, and it prominently included a link to an anti-USWNT story by The Daily Stormer, a U.S.-based pro-Nazi website.
“I don’t anticipate approaching [Ronaldo] any differently than I would approach anyone else who I meet [in Milan],” Morgan said. “I do think that a lot of times in today’s climate women have spoken up, and it’s important to support those women. And I think a lot of people right now are questioning who is right and who is wrong. When you look at [Ronaldo’s] story in particular, I think there’s too much evidence to cover up, and I think at the end of the day money helps put stories down.
“The [criminal] charges were dropped, so he can and does continue playing,” Morgan went on. “And he’s not the only person that this is happening to, but he is one of if not the most famous footballer in the world right now, so obviously he’s garnering attention on this. So I feel like this was one thing that I did speak out about—very minimally, to say the least—but I think it’s important to continue to support women who are in vulnerable and scary situations where they don’t have a lot of support. For me, I was surprised reading many, many articles and following along, and I decided in that moment to speak out via tweet. I definitely got a lot of hate for it, and I think that is from his fans.
“That’s not to say that I don’t think he’s one of the best footballers in the world, but that has nothing to do with it. What he does as a job and him entertaining people on the football field has nothing to do with who he might be as a person or the actions that he may have taken … For me, it just kind of taught me that although I’m still going to continue to stay true to what I feel in my heart and speaking up about important issues, it was really difficult to go through people having so much hatred with really understanding the story.”
Morgan eventually chose to delete the Ronaldo tweet.
“I left it up for like a week,” she said, “but eventually I was getting so much hate [via] other ways—and also failed attempts to try and hack accounts that eventually I just took it down.”
• U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro
This year Morgan is a new member of U.S. Soccer’s Athlete Council, which controls 20% of the vote in federation elections. In fact, it was the Athlete Council, voting as a bloc for one candidate, that made the difference in Cordeiro’s victory at last year’s contentious U.S. Soccer presidential election.
So I asked Morgan: Given how Cordeiro and U.S. Soccer have handled the USWNT players’ lawsuit—which has included hiring lobbyists to try and persuade Washington lawmakers and even presidential candidates that U.S. Soccer has paid its women more than its men over the last 10 years—do you think the Athlete Council would vote for Cordeiro again if the election were held today?
“I think we would have to look at all the candidates before deciding on whether the Athlete Council would be completely behind the current president, which is Carlos, or with someone else,” Morgan said. “I think something great about the Athlete Council is that they did come together and unified in their decision of backing Carlos [in 2018]. Whether that was the right decision or not, I don’t think we can say at this moment. I don’t think he has had enough time as president to really clarify things.
“I think there’s a lot of murkiness within U.S. Soccer in general, with the CEO [Dan Flynn] trying to exit for a few years and U.S. Soccer being unable to really decide on the next CEO,” Morgan added.
• The NWSL’s post-World Cup bump
Morgan, who plays for the Orlando Pride, said she was pleased by the increased attendance and national television exposure that the NWSL has gotten after the U.S. won the World Cup. She added that the U.S. players were making a real effort to get the word out about the league.
“We always try to promote the NWSL as much as possible,” Morgan said. “I think we were given an even bigger platform to do so [after the World Cup], so I think more people are paying attention and really hearing more than just celebrations of the World Cup. They’re hearing about our fights against inequality that we’re faced with. They’re hearing about the struggles that we face in the NWSL … We’ve definitely made a conscious effort to bring the NWSL into conversation a lot more. I feel like the World Cup is what most people want to talk about and still want to talk about, but the national team is not where we spend a majority of our time. It’s with our club team. So I think it’s important to show people where we are day in and day out.”