Earlier this week, U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Jill Ellis named her captains ahead of the Women’s World Cup Qualifying tournament aka the CONCACAF Women’s Championship.
The captains that were named were Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, and Megan Rapinoe prior to the team’s Thursday night kickoff against rival Mexico. When asked why these were her captains, Ellis responded that it was chosen by who had the most caps and experience. Lloyd, who has the most caps of the three (259), has been mostly a sub this year which means Morgan (147) has been the one wearing the armband during the game and then turning it over to Lloyd when she enters the match. Rapinoe who has 140 caps could also be available for captain selection.
The decision to have these three as the captains as well as doing it on a caps system has angered fans and has even left some media members scratching their head. There has been some backlash for each player named but the overwhelming criticism that’s been seen the most has come in the form of Morgan being a captain and former captain Becky Sauerbrunn not being one.
I must say, I myself am curious why Becky Sauerbrunn was stripped of her captaincy. She currently is sitting on 143 caps, which by Ellis’ rule would put her ahead of Megan Rapinoe by 3 caps. Whatever is happening regarding Becky Sauerbrunn, I’m most curious why is it coming at the expense of Alex Morgan?
It all started when Portland beat writer Richard Farley quote tweeted a snippet of an answer from Sauerbrunn on why she hasn’t been wearing the armband.
After Farley’s tweet was posted, it sparked quite a discussion amongst fans on why Alex Morgan should or shouldn’t be captain…mostly shouldn’t.
I guess what has me the most confused is why? For example, why is this such a big deal? Why was Sauerbrunn stripped of the role? Why is everyone mad at Alex Morgan? Why is no one mentioning how Sauerbrunn has more caps than Rapinoe? I, unfortunately, don’t have the answers to these questions, but I would like to touch on is why is it such an issue that Morgan specifically was named. More so, why it shouldn’t be an issue that she was named and why fans should maybe reconsider their position on the matter.
Before I get started, I would like to post just a few of the anti-Morgan comments and go from there.
As you can see, the above examples are mostly for three totally separate reasons. Marketability, Star Power and Lack of Leadership. So ideally, what I’d like to do here is dig into each of the three reasons.
Yes, it is true, Alex Morgan is extremely marketable. We know this because it’s brought up ALL THE TIME. Yes, we know Morgan is pretty, yes, we know Morgan makes a lot of endorsement money, yes, we know Morgan brings US Soccer a lot of money. The most annoying part of this narrative (aside from hearing it ALL THE TIME) is that those are considered reasons that should negate her from a captaincy role. Perhaps a better way of looking at it is just because she’s a captain doesn’t mean its because she’s marketable.
No one needs me to remind them of all the game-winning goals she’s scored. No one even needs me to remind them of all her goals in general. That information is already out there. What I’m interested in reminding people of is that even with her marketability, she uses her platform unselfishly. What I mean by that is, in all of her interviews that she’s ever given, she’s never once openly criticized a teammate. She’s never once questioned the authority of a coach. She’s always quick to praise her teammates for her success. And she is known for using her platform to grow not only women’s soccer but to also fight for women in sports in general. She genuinely wants those around her to succeed too.
Do I think Morgan is captain because of her marketability…absolutely not. But if there is anything to take away from the link of Morgan being extremely marketable and a captain then it shouldn’t be looked at negatively or given as some sort of excuse. It should be looked at as a sign that we have someone unselfishly willing to share the spotlight with her teammates, which in my personal opinion would be a great quality to have in a captain.
When looking at star power, it’s easy to see how it could be compared to marketability. If Morgan is a “star” on this team, it is in large part due to her marketability. The more her face is out there, the more people are going to see it and know who she is. But to me, star power reaches farther than that. It’s what gets fans excited, it’s little girls wanting to be her when they grow up, it’s people coming to games just to see her. Interestingly enough, she’s been on this team for the better part of 8 years. She’s been a fan favorite for much of, if not all of that time. Morgan has wowed fans for years with her late dramatic goals and her knack for scoring against top-quality opponents. The funny part…she wasn’t a captain for any of that time. In fact, she was probably lowest on the totem pole when it came to being a leader on the team. Many of Morgan’s most exciting moments came when she was one of the youngest players on the team. Think of how Christian Pulisic is on the Men’s National Team. It’s a very similar situation when focused just on National Team play.
So considering that Morgan has been on this team for so long and has been a fan favorite for so long, yet hasn’t been a captain until just recently, it kind of shuts down the whole “star power” theory. Fans have been coming to see her regardless of if she’s had the armband or not. She’s one of the biggest names in women’s football. It’s like saying people only go to see Argentina play because Messi is captain. It’s actually such a dumb theory that it blows my mind that someone actually considered that a logical reason.
Lack of Leadership
This reason in particular really bugs me and I’m going to tell you why by giving a brief recap of events leading up to Morgan being named a captain.
I’m going to begin at the 2016 Rio Olympics. You might remember the USWNT having their worst Olympic finish ever when they lost to Sweden in the quarterfinals. Alex Morgan did get a game-tying goal, but when it came time to the penalty shoot-out, she missed hers along with Christen Press. The U.S. was eliminated.
Lets fast forward a couple of months to December 2016 when Morgan penned a Player’s Tribune article explaining why she was going to play in France, her reason being…to improve her game. One of the major criticisms that people have had with Morgan’s play is that she was somewhat of a one-trick pony. Get in behind and that’s it. With the USWNT wanting to move away from that direct style of play with plans to move to a more technical possession-oriented game, that left Morgan a bit on the outs. At this time, Jill Ellis made no secret of the fact that she was experimenting with her roster lineups, and Morgan’s name was one of the most notable to not get called into camps, and when she was called in, she sat on the bench. So moving to France where she would have to compete with other forwards and maybe even take on a new position to fit in the lineup, she believed it would add more to her arsenal.
Come March 2017 during She Believes Cup, Ellis is still tinkering with her lineups, and Morgan is still sitting on the bench. At this point, some of the players that had been benched had made their way back into the lineup, not Morgan though. She sat on the bench and watched her team come in the last place in their own tournament on home soil and score only one single goal throughout all three games. It was a new low for the U.S. Women’s National team.
At this point, I’m going to take a moment to discuss what Morgan might have felt like during this period. I’m not her and I’ve not spoken to her about such things, but it’s easy to assume that maybe she was at an all-time low as well. Here she is, coming off a year where she had a team-high 17 goals that ended sourly with a missed penalty in the Olympics. Ellis is making it rather well known that what she offers isn’t what Ellis is looking for and is basically begging someone to take the starting spot from her. Her team is still losing, worse than ever. She’s in a foreign country, battling injuries I might add, away from her loved ones and friends. Fans were more critical of her than ever before. One reporter even went as far as saying she was only the 4th best forward option on the team. Sometimes, what makes a leader is not always about what they have to say or how they say it, but what they prove to everyone around them…and how they deal with adversity.
While in France, Morgan won the treble playing a myriad of positions. Fans who were able to tune in saw her scoring, saw her assisting, even saw her tackling! She was embracing what she couldn’t do before. No longer was Morgan just a player who could get in behind. She was now holding the ball up, laying it off to teammates, flick passes, you name it, she was doing it. She returned to the NWSL only to light it on fire with her newfound skill set. She and Brazillian player Marta together dragged the Orlando Pride into the playoffs. When called up for National Team games, she was finally seeing the field again. In fact, despite sitting on the bench for quite a bit of the year, she finished 2017 with a team-high 7 goals. That should tell you a bit what the scoring was like without her on the pitch. She finally offered what Jill Ellis was looking for, and what no other forward seemed to be able to offer either.
Now, in 2018, Morgan is starting regularly, scoring regularly, and the entire team is looking like it has finally found its groove again. As of October 4, 2018, Alex now has 12 goals and is still looking as dangerous as ever. The connection between Morgan and Rapinoe has been the best we’ve seen since Morgan and Wambach were connecting.
So why does it bug me so much when someone has the balls to say that Morgan is “no leader?” It’s because Morgan changed her entire game and what she was comfortable with and what had always worked for her…for the betterment of the team. She literally put her team first. She left her home (and took criticism for doing so) to take on a new challenge to show Jill Ellis that she can do what this team needs of her. She led by example and she did it without whining and complaining about it. If she suffered from this “Star Power” syndrome that some have expressed, she would have felt entitled to that starting spot. She would have felt like the team needs to fit her in, not the other way around. But because of her mature approach to the situation, she acknowledged that the problem didn’t lie with the team, it didn’t lie with Jill Ellis, it was on her! That is something that is found in a true leader. That is someone who deserves the armband. That is someone who doesn’t deserve the treatment that she’s gotten from upset fans and media members.
In conclusion, I acknowledge that this piece likely won’t change the minds of some of if not all the criticizers out there. I know they’re angry for Becky Sauerbrunn, I know they don’t like the fact that Alex Morgan gets so much attention, I know they will still dislike Jill Ellis’ system. But if they take anything from this I hope its maybe a new perspective. If you are a fan of this team and you truly want the team itself to succeed, then this pitting of players against each other needs to stop. Realize that Alex Morgan did not pick herself as captain but realize that if it was given to her that she earned it. Also, acknowledge that Sauerbrunn might not be 100% innocent. I can’t imagine Jill Ellis just taking it away from her for no reason, and then not even adhering to her own rules with the caps system. We don’t know what happens behind closed doors, and whatever it was it doesn’t seem like its going to come out any time soon. Also, recognize that it wasn’t taken away from her just so that Alex Morgan could be a captain. Yes, Alex has 4 more caps than her, but Becky has 3 more caps than Megan Rapinoe and still isn’t a captain, so let’s quit with this weird blame game, it’s ugly and honestly just really sad. Accept it and move on and maybe, just maybe, show a tiny bit of respect for a player who willingly put herself through the ringer to be a better player for this team.