When the first-place San Diego Wave host fourth-place Portland Thorns FC on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET | CBS Sports Network), they'll do it with the National Women's Soccer League's most in-form scorer leading the line. Alex Morgan has been on fire for the expansion Wave, with eight goals in the team's first seven matches this season, double the amount of anybody else in the league. She is already only one goal shy of matching her NWSL single-season best of nine while with the Orlando Pride in 2017. The question for the Thorns is whether they'll be able to slow Morgan down, and the question for everybody else is how exactly Morgan has exploded to become such a lethal NWSL scorer at 32 years old.

The Wave are coming off of a 2-2 draw with the Kansas City Current, a match where Morgan scored twice, dragging her team back to level terms both times -- first with a penalty and then a late goal -- to rescue a point at the death. Here are the goals.

That match raised the two interesting factors: How much of her numbers are just a factor of penalties? And how big a difference is there between her home and road performances?

Let's dig in. 

Morgan is scoring a lot of penalties, does it matter?

After the 2-2 draw, Morgan attributed her current form to San Diego's ability to capitalize its time in the final third. 

"The reason I'm getting these goals is because we're getting shots inside the 18-yard box, we're forcing handballs from opponents, Sofia [Jakobsson] is making amazing crosses and the ball just lays up for me," Morgan said. "The wave of attack that we've had has given us more opportunities inside the box to put these goals away."

Morgan definitely isn't wrong about the handballs. The Wave are one of only two teams to have gotten more than one penalty awarded this season. They've actually had four, with Morgan converting all of them. For context, the Pride sit second with two. 

Morgan is also spot-on about how they're forcing handballs. The Wave have the third-most touches in the attacking penalty box with 168. And Morgan herself is second in the league individually with 43, trailing only fellow USWNTer and cross-town rival Christen Press of Angel City FC.

Those numbers are good, but they aren't double-the-penalties-of-any-other-team-in-the-league good. So it's possible that eventually the calls will stop going their way. But, even accounting for that, Morgan is still playing like the best striker in the league. Take away her four penalty goals and she's still tied for the league lead with four goals, leads the league in expected goals with 2.63 and is tied for the league lead in shots with 24. The penalties might be part of the reason why Morgan is lapping the field, but even without them she's still been basically the best striker in the NWSL.

Then there's the fact that while the Wave are averaging penalty kicks at a higher rate than most clubs. It'll be a challenge to continue that against a Portland team that leads the league in fewest fouls conceded (46) and lowest yellow card count (5). Not to mention, Thorns goalkeeper Bella Bixby has three clean sheets over six games this season.   

Morgan scores a lot more at home

San Diego got off to a hot start with a three-game win streak to kick off the regular season, though two of those three wins came at home. Soon after, they embarked on a four-game road trip where it suffered a pair of losses and picked up only four out of 12 possible points.

In past performances for club and country, Morgan's ability to hold up play and take punishment around the box and in attacking half has proved to be an asset for her teammates to capitalize on. This season has not been any different for Morgan except for the fact that she's been able to rack up goals at a high pace. That said, in the Wave's two home games this season, Morgan has touched the ball a lot more in the box than in five away matches where she's been forced to come deeper to find the ball. Check it out below: 

Alex Morgan's action bins highlighting touches over seven matches. TruMedia

Unsurprisingly, Morgan's scoring has also been heavily slanted to those couple of home matches. Five of her eight goals and three of her four penalties have come at home. It seems clear that on the road the team struggles to feed Morgan the same diet of service that has allowed her to dominate. That's what made Morgan's performance against Kansas City so notable. Her last-gasp goal was her only non-penalty shot of the match, but it did have an xG value of 0.66, making that game her second-highest non-penalty xG match of the season. On the one hand, Morgan's late goal meant the performance ended up looking fine. One the other hand, for 90 minutes, San Diego failed to get Morgan involved, and that's a worrisome pattern that's been present away from home all season.

Wave head coach Casey Stoney took note of the challenges faced with getting the ball forward, as well as the leakiness of their backline, with the hopes of seeing some improvements made against Portland. 

"It was probably one of our poorest performances as a collective and that starts with me in terms of the setup of the team. On Wednesday, we need to react and recover," Stoney said. "Obviously, it'll be a tough game Wednesday against Portland. I have to credit the resilience and the character to get a point [against Kansas City] when arguably we could've been out of the game long before. Real credit to the team with the character shown to take a point. I felt like [Kansas City] created problems for us up top tonight with their front two, so it's something we need to look at, analyze and improve very quickly ahead of Wednesday."

The challenge on Wednesday, and for the rest of the season, remains clear. Will the Wave be able to regularly feed Morgan in penalty box, and if they do, will Morgan keep excelling even if the penalty calls dry up? With three of the team's next four matches at home, the task will likely be a little easier, but eventually Stoney's side will also have to figure out how to get the same level of production in tough environments. Rescuing a point against the Current shows just how resilient this team is, but Stoney is under no illusions that the performances have been good enough. Eventually, either they'll have to get Morgan the ball more away from home, or their struggles on the road will continue.

Wave vs. Thorns: How to watch

  • Date: Wednesday, June 8 | Time: 10 p.m. ET
  • Location: Torero Stadium -- San Diego, California
  • TV and Live stream: CBS Sports Network

Look ahead

San Diego is currently on top of the league table after seven games played with 13 points. Both Houston Dash and Chicago Red Stars are level on 11 points and sit at second and third respectively. The Wave will have another quick turnaround after midweek action as they prepare to face OL reign on June 12 on Paramount+