The future of U.S. women’s soccer met the sport’s present Sunday in a late-afternoon matinee at BMO Stadium. And Alex Morgan, the sport’s current leading lady, showed she’s not ready to step aside just yet, helping the San Diego Wave to a 2-0 win over Angel City and teenager Alyssa Thompson, her possible heir apparent.
The goals, both from second-half substitutes, came five minutes apart late in the second half, the first when Sofia Jakobsson converted a Christen Westphal pass into a score at the end of a counterattack, and the second when Makenzy Doniak deflected a shot from distance off Angel City defender Sarah Gorden.
Morgan got the assist on the second goal, shutting the door on Angel City’s first home loss to its Southern California rival. But the day wasn’t a complete loss for Angel City because it marked the NWSL return of two-time world champion Julie Ertz after a two-year break in which she gave birth to her first child.
Angel City FC
Angel City star Alyssa Thompson is among a group of emerging teenage stars who are poised to change development standards for U.S. women’s soccer players.
The game, played in front of a sellout crowd of 22,000, was the first between Morgan, an 11-year NWSL veteran, and Thompson, who was making her third league start, though Thompson hardly needed an introduction. The two played on the national team earlier this month, and prominent in the decor of Thompson’s childhood bedroom was a poster of the 2015 U.S. national team, meaning she woke every morning to Morgan’s smiling face.
That visage has become the face of U.S. Soccer, but Morgan is now 33 and a mother. She’s still playing some of the best soccer of her career, but this summer’s World Cup could be her last. And while Thompson, 18, is too young to be Morgan’s direct successor, she’s too good to be kept out of the conversation for long.
Carli Lloyd, a two-time world player of the year and now an NWSL analyst, said such talk is not only premature but possibly harmful.
“Many times, the media and U.S. Soccer try to pick a player or two who are the ‘face’ of the team, but sometimes that can hurt a player if they aren’t able to live up to the hype,” she said. “Alyssa definitely has the qualities to make the WNT, but it may be in Alyssa and the soccer world’s best interest to let Alyssa be an 18-year-old pro player and enjoy her journey.”
Speaking of journeys, Ertz, 31, completed her comeback with a solid 72-minute performance less than a week after joining Angel City on a free-agent contract.
Angel City FC
Two-time World Cup champion Julie Ertz, who stepped away from soccer to give birth to her son, has signed a one-year contract with Angel City.
“I’m so grateful to be here,” said Ertz, who trained twice this week. “I’m having so much fun playing with them. Obviously, today is not the scoreline that we want, so it sounds weird, but I did have so much fun tonight.”
For captain Ali Riley, the addition of a defensive midfielder such as Ertz will change the way the team plays on both ends of the field.
“It is a piece of the puzzle that is going to be so important to us moving forward,” she said. “I truly believe that this is a turning point for us.”
Sunday’s match was the first of four scheduled meetings between Angel City (1-2-1) and the Wave (3-1-0), second-year clubs whose rivalry has already grown into one of the best in league. Both sides weathered a frustrating opening hour. Morgan’s best chance came in the 36th minute when the ball found her edge of the box, but she stumbled and sent a right-footed shot well over the crossbar.
Three minutes later, Thompson, who was electric at times, delivered a beautiful cross from the left wing to a wide-open Katie Johnson in the center of the penalty area, but Johnson couldn’t control the ball and failed to get off a shot.
USWNT soccer star Alex Morgan has launched her own foundation to promote sports equity, empower girls and support mothers in San Diego’s South Bay.
Thompson also set up Ertz with a deft chip at the near post early in the second half that Ertz couldn’t get a boot on it, then moments later delivered a shot from nearly the same spot was snagged at the post by Wave keeper Kailen Sheridan.
That save proved big because minutes later, Jakobsson, a Swedish international, put the Wave ahead to stay with her first goal of the season.
And while San Diego coach Casey Stoney welcomed the three points and her team’s second shutout in as many games, it was the return of Ertz, the continued brilliance of Morgan and the emergence of Thompson that dominated the postgame news conference.
“The future of American soccer,” she said “is very, very bright.”
Kevin Baxter writes about soccer and other things for the Los Angeles Times, where he has worked for 24 years. He has covered five World Cups, three Olympic Games, six World Series and a Super Bowl and has contributed to three Pulitzer Prize-winning series at The Times and Miami Herald. An essay he wrote in fifth grade was voted best in the class. He has a cool dog.
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