Alex Morgan scores winning goal for USA

Amid the chaos at the bottom of a mound of joy that formed after Alex Morgan’s goal in the 123rd minute gave the U.S. women’s soccer team an epic 4-3 Olympic semifinal victory Monday night over Canada at Old Trafford, Abby Wambach found clarity.
“I told her in the dog pile after the match: ‘I love you (and) I think I’m in love with you in this moment because you just sent us to the gold-medal match’ ” – Wambach said.
Morgan made America fall just as hard for her by converting a perfect cross from Heather O’Reilly with a midair header just under the crossbar for the game-winner. Watch Morgan’s trademark pink headbands fly off the shelves now. Move over, Hope Solo and Wambach. Team USA’s new “It” girl just arrived.
The shot that led every highlight show back home gave Team USA’s youngest starter a goal for the ages and sent the Americans into Thursday’s final against Japan.
Morgan (a former Cal star and the emerging fresh face of U.S. women’s soccer at 23) managed a relieved smile while finally walking out of the locker room 75 minutes after the game because of drug testing. Asked to explain the final sequence, Morgan looked as dumbfounded as everyone who watched a game that lived up to the tradition of 102 years of play in the Yankee Stadium of soccer.

Alex Morgan scores winning goal for USA
Alex Morgan.

She was still shaking in the chilly night outside one of the most famous stadiums in world soccer. Maybe it was due to the cold, or maybe it was just the emotional overload, “wanting to laugh and cry at the same time,” as she put it. Alex Morgan had just scored one of the most famous goals in U.S. soccer history – a 123rd-minute game-winning header to beat Canada 4-3 and send the U.S. to the Olympic final – and if she was having a hard time coming to grips with the enormity of the occasion, well, there haven’t been many like it.
“I can’t remember ever feeling this way after scoring a goal” – Morgan said. “It’s just so exhilarating.”
At the age of 23, Morgan has scored 20 goals in 2012, becoming only the sixth U.S. player to do so in a single year. But for all her talents – including blazing speed and a ruthless right foot – Morgan has been a project for coach Pia Sundhage when it comes to heading the ball. “Heading is something that Pia has always said is one of my weakest points” – says Morgan, “which is probably a true statement.”
In the final minute of a game filled with a bit of everything – goals galore, unexpected comebacks and never-before-seen officiating calls – it seemed like the U.S. and Canada were on the way toward a penalty-kick shootout. U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo stood in her penalty box and got ready mentally for spot kicks. “In my head I had decided on a plan of attack” – she said. On the sideline, Sundhage met with her assistants and started putting together a list of penalty-takers.

They were ready for this moment.
Less than an hour after playing in one of the greatest games in women’s soccer history, that, above all else, is what U.S. co-captain Abby Wambach wanted the world to know. Extra time. Penalty kicks. Come-from-behind attacks. They trained for all of it. And in each of those moments, they envisioned themselves being great.
“It takes just one chance, one moment of brilliance for someone to do something special” – Wambach said.
That moment came in the 123rd minute of a game packed with more drama than a high school hallway, when Team USA’s young star, forward Alex Morgan, out-jumped, out-willed and outlasted the Canada defense and headed in the second goal of her budding Olympic career. It is a moment that will forever be remembered for propelling the U.S. women’s national team into its fifth Olympic final. As the moment the United States, after clawing from behind three times in 80 minutes, secured a rematch with 2011 Women’s World Cup champion Japan, who relegated them to a silver medal that still haunts them.
And it was a moment that was unexpected.
“Heading is something (U.S. coach) Pia (Sundhage) has always said is one of my weakest points” – said Morgan, who worked harder on that part of her game than anything else. “That’s probably a true statement.”
The expected, of course, would have been for Wambach, the woman who has built a career on lassoing big moments and who’d already scored her fifth goal in as many games, to steal another at Old Trafford on Monday night. Expected would have been for a game-winning header to come from the woman whose noggin has three Twitter accounts – @wambachhead, @wambachshead and @AbbyWambachHead – and a Facebook fan page dedicated to it.

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