The USWNT’s lucky no. 13 saves the day once more

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Alex Morgan’s late header at Old Trafford staved off Olympic elimination and forces a rematch against Japan in the final. Really, it’s just Alex being Alex.

It’ll never get boring, but Alex Morgan’s dramatic game-winning goal against Canada has become a familiar sight. (Watch it again here.)

It’s far too early to ponder her potential legacy, but the 23-year-old has already built up a marvelous reputation. She rescued her team from an undesirable outcome (in this case, penalty kicks), just like she has time and time again. Her propensity for late heroics is what initially endeared her to the USWNT faithful.

Before the world knew her as ‘Baby Horse’, she was known as something else: clutch.

In October 2010 against China, the U.S. came perilously close to losing its first domestic friendly since 2004. Who subbed in and scored the dramatic equalizer? Alex Morgan. A month later the team looked hopeless against Italy in a World Cup qualifying play-off. (That’s right; the U.S. nearly failed to qualify for the 2011 World Cup). Who netted the go-ahead goal in stoppage time? Yup. And let’s not even mention her two-goal output against New Zealand this February that secured a 2-1 comeback win or her late equalizer to draw level with Japan in a friendly this past April.

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Saving face has become standard practice for the precocious starlet. We can flag up her towering header – a rare header – in the dying moments of the U.S.’s momentous semifinal victory over Canada as the latest example.

The context isn’t the only thing that makes today’s goal noteworthy. It marked the 20th time Morgan has found the back of the net in 2012. Morgan is just the fifth player in USWNT history to convert 20 goals in a calendar year. She also becomes the youngest. And it’s barely August.

Morgan’s grown accustomed to restoring hope in desperate situations, but her timely interventions haven’t always carried the day. Take the 2011 World Cup final for instance. It was easily the biggest stage she had yet to step foot on. Her flashy goal gave the U.S. a 2-1 lead with 21 minutes remaining in regular time. In what’s now become WoSo folklore, Japan would storm back with a second equalizer to force penalty kicks. For those unaware, the spot kicks didn’t turn out in the U.S.’s favor.

Last year’s summer classic will now have a sequel, courtesy of the U.S.’s no 13. Japan rarely relinquished control in their semifinal match against France earlier today. The United States, on the back of yet another nerve-jangling comeback, will hope to foil Japan’s bid to become the first team to win the World Cup and Olympic gold in consecutive years.

It’s all teed up for another momentous Morgan moment. We’ve experienced plenty so far, but this will be on a whole new plane. The gold medal match against the defending world champions at Wembley Stadium? That would be the stuff of legend.