Before the commercials, before the magazine covers, before the Times Square billboards, Alex Morgan was a Golden Bear.
Last week I waited for four hours for a call from the U.S. Women’s National Team star, but it never came. I was disappointed, but not surprised. Alex Morgan has a lot on her plate. Of course she had more important things to do in her last three days before leaving for England and her first Olympic Games than to talk with me.
The real surprise came the next evening when my phone rang.
“Hi, this is Alex Morgan,” an energetic voice says. “Sorry I didn’t call you yesterday. I’ve been really busy, but I always have time for a fellow Bear.”
That one sentence told me everything I needed to know about Morgan. Just a couple of weeks away from the biggest moment in her life, in the midst of a goodbye barbecue with some of her friends, it would have been easy for her to just forget about the missed interview and focus on her own priorities.
But after speaking with her for just a few sentences, it became clear just how proud she is of her former school. After all of the acclaim, Cal still holds a special spot in Alex Morgan’s heart.
Morgan, 23, has always had a future on the soccer pitch. From her Freshman All-American season in 2007 to her All-American senior season, she led the team in scoring all four years. Morgan finished her career at Cal as the Bears’ third-best all-time leading scorer, despite missing games due to commitments to the U.S. National Team.
Those National Team commitments paid off in 2011. Morgan entered the national spotlight after last year’s Women’s World Cup, as Team USA’s exciting run ended in a penalty shootout in the finals against Japan. In spite of the loss, her token pink headband, her constant smile, and her electrifying play quickly made her a fan favorite. Since the World Cup, Morgan has replaced older players like Hope Solo and Abby Wambach as the face of women’s soccer in the United States.
“Things have been great since the World Cup, especially to grow the sport in the States,” Morgan says. “I’ve gained a little attention walking down the street. I’ve gained the endorsements, but life hasn’t changed too much. Nothing has significantly changed.”
Morgan credits much of her success at the professional level to the lessons she learned during her time at Cal.
“Cal definitely helped me grow as a person and grow as a player,” Morgan says. Coach (Neil) McGuire was always there for extra practice. And after I left, the athletic community is so tight … It’s a really great community.”
It was as part of that Cal community that Morgan finally realized the power of the rivalry with Stanford at the Big Game Bonfire her senior year.
“I couldn’t believe they were setting things on fire and they didn’t care,” Morgan says. “I finally realized the rivalry.”
Morgan has an array of memories from Cal to draw on. Still, winning a gold medal in the Olympics would top everything else.
“Last year in the World Cup, I thought we were the best team,” Morgan says. “Going into the Olympics I feel that we’re even better, which is funny. We’ve shown the world (in friendlies) that we’re capable of being the best. I think our chances are pretty good.”
Morgan is looking forward to nothing as much as playing in London’s iconic Wembley Stadium, where the gold medal game will be played. After playing her Cal home games at rundown Edwards Stadium, the world class stadiums that Morgan has gotten to play at have been an extra perk.
“All the stadiums have so much history,” Morgan says.
Winning a gold medal won’t be easy. But if Morgan and the rest of the U.S. Women’s National Team win one in Wembley, Morgan knows one place that will definitely be part of her victory tour: specifically, a newly renovated stadium in Strawberry Canyon.
“I haven’t been to Cal since last year when I went to a football game at (AT&T Park),” she says. “So I’m definitely going to make it to one or two games this year.”