United States Women's National Team head coach Vlatko Andonovski's stated goal ahead of the 2023 SheBelieves Cup was to use the tournament's three games against elite competition to rotate his roster, try a few different formations and styles, and get a sense for how the team should play at this summer's World Cup. He accomplished that, swapping in 13 different starters for one or two of the games around a scaffolding of four women who started all three. As the U.S. was also trying to win and continue to build up their confidence after a shaky patch last Fall, the untouchable Mallory Swanson was one of those four, as were the uber-versatile Emily Fox and the mission-critical midfield ass-coverer Lindsey Horan. The other was Alex Morgan, who has seized her opportunity and re-established herself as a core player.
Swanson was the tournament's MVP and the USWNT's best player, all of which made it entirely too easy to miss how great Morgan was alongside her. Morgan assisted Swanson in each of the USWNT's first two games, then opened the scoring against Brazil on Wednesday with a splendid goal from outside the box. That strike came minutes after a disallowed goal for offsides, and against Brazil, Morgan was aggressive in attack and physically unshakeable in hold-up play. Morgan's goal against Brazil was her 14th since she gave birth to her daughter Charlie in May 2020. “I looked up to her before she had Charlie,” Swanson said after the game. “But, even after, I think that just seeing her as a mother and what motherhood brings, you can see it, she’s like a completely different person."
She's a different player too. Though Morgan has been on the USWNT since 2010, and has 121 goals in 204 appearances, her place in this iteration of the team was never a sure thing. She missed a huge chunk of time between the 2019 World Cup and the 2021 SheBelieves Cup, then was again away from the team for almost a year at the end of 2021 and the start of 2022. In the meantime, Swanson and Sophia Smith seized starting spots, and Andonovski deliberately set out to freshen his squad after a third-place finish at the Olympics. Morgan is a USWNT legend and a two-time World Cup-winner, but it would not have been completely out of the question for her to miss out on the plane to Oceania.
She's locked in now. Morgan followed up a spectacular 2022 NWSL season with a great SheBelieves Cup, and her sublime hold-up play slightly behind Swanson and Smith is a crucial weapon for the USWNT. Her place in the forward line seems assured, and on a team that will necessarily have to be led by a new generation of players in the Southern Hemisphere this summer, it feels deeply reassuring to have an in-form Alex Morgan around again.