(Eds: With AP Photos.)
By MELISSA MURPHY
AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - Alex Morgan and her U.S. soccer teammates are on a victory tour after winning the gold medal at the London Olympics. Morgan's late header against Canada propelled the Americans into the gold-medal match, where soccer's version of the Redeem Team edged Japan 2-1 before 80,203 fans at Wembley Stadium in a rematch of the World Cup final. On Wednesday, the U.S. team will play Australia in an exhibition match near Denver.
The 23-year-old Morgan recently participated in a youth soccer clinic in Rochester, N.Y. - hometown of teammate Abby Wambach - that focused on warm-up techniques to help prevent injuries. She walked the runway at Fashion Week in New York, biting her gold medal in a blue and brown vertically striped dress with a bouffant updo while on stage at the Just Dance fashion show. She also made the morning talk show circuit, inked a book deal and rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Sept. 11.
The Cal graduate with a major in political economy and 942,000 followers on Twitter discusses winning gold, returning from a knee injury and what's next without a pro league in the U.S.
Morgan says the team is proud to wear the gold medal after "a heartbreaker losing to Japan last year" in the World Cup. The U.S. topped Japan in the rematch in London, and Morgan called it "fate that we met up together in the final in the Olympics. Getting that gold medal, wearing it around our necks, makes it even sweeter." On Sunday in Carson, Calif., Morgan celebrated her 50th international appearance by scoring a team-best 22nd goal of the year in a 2-1 win, also against Australia. She played before more than 100 friends and family, who came from nearby Diamond Bar, where she led her high school team before going on to be the top scorer at Cal.
Morgan tore a knee ligament in high school while making a move without the ball, had surgery and was back on the field after five months of rehab. In high school, she says players typically warm up with the ball and dribbling. Now she's telling younger players about techniques that include balance and core exercises. Morgan says the biggest difference in soccer training is "the agility exercises. We also raise awareness of the importance of aligning the foot, knee and hip." She says it's important for her "to reach out to that teenage group" and share advice.
Soccer is a contact sport that involves tangling for possession of the ball and launching airborne for headers off corner kicks. Concussion prevention is part of the effort to avoid head injuries. Is it possible to perform a safe header? Morgan thinks so, by "jumping off of both feet and landing on both feet, making sure you protect your head with your body if going up against a header with someone else or a goalkeeper."
FACE OF THE FUTURE?
After the victory tour, players such as Hope Solo, Morgan and Wambach won't have the option of playing for a U.S. pro league. The Women's Professional Soccer league folded this year, with no replacement so far. There's talk of upgrading a semipro league in the states or providing 25-30 games per year in an extended residency program for the U.S. national team before the 2015 World Cup. Other options include playing overseas in leagues in Europe or Japan. Meanwhile, the U.S. Soccer Federation is looking for a new coach after Pia Sundhage announced she will return to Sweden to coach the national team. Morgan called Sundhage a "great coach" who taught her about "enjoying the journey and living in the moment - it really made me have fun." Morgan, the heir apparent to high-scoring Wambach, is "hopeful" there will be a new U.S. pro league soon.