Alex Morgan — the woman named twice to Time Magazine’s Most 100 Influential People list, the two-time World Cup winner, perhaps the most endorsed female athlete in the world — stood beside the field where it all began for her 13 years ago on Tuesday.
That field? America First Field, in Sandy, Utah.
While Morgan now has 213 appearances with the United States women’s national team, her first appearance came in Sandy on March 31, 2010, where she substituted in at halftime on a very snowy day in Utah.
“It’s been a long time since that first cap, but it’s always nice coming back to Salt Lake City because I definitely have a lot of memories,” Morgan said. “There’s always a great crowd and it’s a beautiful stadium, so I really can’t complain at all when we come here.”
That doesn’t mean her first cap with the national team was easy. Anything but.
“I’d never played in snow, being from California,” Morgan said. “I had been told that I was probably going to come in at halftime. So I was really excited, extremely nervous — and I couldn’t feel my feet because it was snowing.”
The result, she said, was that she “probably played terribly.” But everyone did — before that night, the USWNT had never played in a game on snow. The ball alternated between sliding forward in the flatter ice and being stopped by the piles that naturally built up as the athletes played, action was wildly unpredictable.
The U.S. moved forward with a 1-0 win thanks to an Abby Wambach goal in the 60th minute, one that the players celebrated with snow angels on the field. The players planned the celebration leading up to the match.
“That’s the only time, to date, I’ve done snow angels,” Morgan laughed.
Morgan was still in college at the University of California at the time. In fact, she was the only player on the national team roster who wasn’t playing in WPS, the women’s professional soccer league which has now been replaced by the NWSL.
The snowy game in Sandy began a rocket of a trajectory for Morgan. The next year, she became the first woman to record a goal and an assist in a World Cup final, doing so as the United States’ youngest player. In 2012, she also singlehandedly out-scored and out-assisted the U.S. team’s opponents — Morgan had 28 goals and 21 assists, while every team the U.S. faced that year managed just 21 goals and 12 assists.
Olympic gold followed, as did the World Cup successes in 2015 and 2019. Fame followed, too. Morgan appeared everywhere: signing dozens of endorsement deals that put her in commercials and in magazines. She wrote a four-book series for middle schoolers and starred in a direct-to-video movie. By any measure, she became one of the most famous athletes in the world.
More recent days have brought changes to Morgan’s life, though. The 34-year-old is now a mother. 2022 brought her back to California, where she now plays for the San Diego Wave club in NWSL. Morgan led the league in goals and the Wave finished top of the NWSL table in 2023.
But most top of mind for Morgan is the USWNT’s most recent tournament: This summer’s extremely public failure in the World Cup in New Zealand, where they were eliminated in the round of 16 by Sweden after an unconvincing group stage.
On Thursday, Morgan and the rest of the team play Colombia in Sandy at 7 p.m. The pair of matches — the team also plays Colombia in San Diego on Oct. 29 — is primarily to begin the rebuilding process after the team’s stunning defeats.
“We’re in a little bit of a transition period, but at the same time, we have been digging in and doing all the work that we can under (interim coach Twila Kilgore) to make sure that we show up and bring our best game as well,” Morgan said.
“The vibe is just: get back together,” Morgan’s teammate and NWSL MVP Sophia Smith said. “Let’s have fun playing again.”
The team, which planned training sessions Tuesday and Wednesday morning at America First Field, features a number of new faces alongside Morgan, Smith, and other World Cup veterans. One such youngster is Olivia Moultrie, the Utah-born NWSL player who first played in the league at just age 15. Now 18 years old, Moultrie could make her USWNT debut either in Sandy or in the San Diego match.
“Who knows?” Morgan wondered. “We might have someone step on the field and start their journey with cap No. 1 in Salt Lake City again.”
But Morgan wants Moultrie’s to go a little differently than her own.
“I think the temperature has risen a bit too much for snow. I was crossing my fingers.”