Morgan Brian is All Grown UpAug. 19, 2012
© U.S. Soccer
Morgan Brian really doesn’t know the Morgan Brian that last played in a FIFA youth World Cup.
“That was four years ago!” said Brian, who was the youngest player on the U.S. team that almost won the 2008 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand. “I don’t even remember what I was thinking back then.”
Considering that Brian is now just 19 years old, and four years represents a good 20 percent of her life so far, that’s an understandable point of view. She was just 15 then, always smiling (well, she’s still always smiling), baby-faced and wearing braces, and while she has a slim build now on her 5-foot-7 frame, back then she was just plain skinny.
When she looks back, she can see how far she’s come as a person and a player to evolve from everyone’s little sister to the fulcrum of the U-20 midfield and one of the most creative young players in the United States.
“A lot has changed,” admitted Morgan. “In 2008 I was still a young kid. I just didn’t know anything. I was going with the flow and I didn’t really understand what the national team was. I just knew I was playing with players who were bigger, faster, and stronger than I was. I grew to understand what it meant to pull on this jersey and what it took for coaches to keep allowing you to do that. What I will say is playing with those older players back then really helped make me the player I am today.”
That player is someone the USA will rely on greatly during the 2012 FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup in Japan, which kicks off for the U.S. Aug. 20 when the young Americans face Ghana at the Hiroshima Big Arch Stadium.
Today Brian is wonderfully creative with the ball at her feet and talented at keeping possession through dribbles or passing. She possesses a high work rate, a propensity for getting forward and a gift for tactics. Her ability to hit textured final passes to her fellow attacking players is way beyond her years.
“Morgan does everything extremely well, which is rare for any midfielder,” said U.S. head coach Steve Swanson. “She can finish, she makes great runs, she’s an excellent passer, she can take players one-on-one and she can head the ball. There are not a lot of things she can’t do, but what sets her apart is her brain. She’s got an amazing soccer brain for her age and she’s still one of the younger players on this team.”
While she’s always had the talent, Morgan had to overcome the obstacles that derail many a talented young player. Can you deal with five bad practices to find that great one? Can you keep pushing yourself to improve with a soccer schedule that requires almost a professional time commitment? Can you see the future while focusing on the day and task at hand?
“My speed of play when I first started coming to national team camps was good enough for my age group, but it had to be 10 times faster as I moved up to the older teams,” said Morgan. “It was just a huge jump from the Under-15 girls to U-17s to train for that World Cup in 2008. You go from having two camps a year to playing with kids who are having a camp every month. You have to be able to perform every practice and that’s hard for a young player.”
There were even times she told her family that she didn’t want to go to training camp. Heading into the meat of the U-17s preparation for the Women’s World Cup, she was coming off a regional team trip to Costa Rica, a U-15 Girls’ National Team camp and a difficult experience – fatigue-wise and socially – at her first U-17 camp. In the humble opinion of that 15-year-old, she was done.
Her family asked her to give it one more try, and if she still wasn’t having fun, that would be it. Of course, as they often do, things got better. She got more comfortable on and off the field and was able to enjoy the invaluable experience of being a part of a World Cup team.
“It was the best decision to keep playing with the U-17s,” said Brian. “I know I wouldn’t be where I am today as a player without having gone through all of that, bad, good and great.”
BECOMING A LEADER
After the World Cup in New Zealand, with increased confidence from playing with older players and then having her age group “catch-up,” Brian went through the next cycle with the U-17s as one of the team leaders and top players on an extremely talented team. However, it was also a team that would become the first from the USA not to qualify for a FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Despite out-scoring the competition 38-0 at the CONCACAF qualifying tournament in Costa Rica, the USA fell in a penalty kick shoot-out in the all-important semifinal and saw their World Cup dreams crushed. It was a pivotal day in her life. That same night, Morgan, still with tears in her eyes, was browsing the Internet and saw the coach at the University of Georgia had resigned. The St. Simon’s Island, Ga. resident had recently committed verbally to the Bulldogs as she wanted to attend college close to home, but now knew her future had changed.
Not only would she not be going to the U-17 Women’s World Cup, she also would not be attending Georgia. After returning home, she re-dedicated herself and set up planning a new life path, one that would see her become the first soccer player ever to win the Gatorade Female High School Athlete of the Year (in 2011) while also being honored as the 2010 Parade Magazine National Girls’ Soccer Player of the Year, which earned her a cover shoot with none other than Landon Donovan.
The journey would take her to the University of Virginia, where she was named Soccer America and ACC Freshman of the Year last fall, and to the 2012 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, where she will get that rare chance to play in a world championship again.
“At the time, it seemed like two terrible things had happened to me on the same day,” said Morgan. “As it turned out, it was just life. Losing in qualifying taught me a lot about how hard it is to succeed at this level and helped me focus harder on this next cycle with the U-20s. Attending Virginia helped me get out of my comfort zone and grow as a person and a player.”
Brian excised some demons in a small way when the USA defeated Canada in the championship game of the 2012 CONCACAF Qualifying tournament, and now she sets her sights on the world’s biggest soccer championship for women outside of the World Cup or Olympics.
It’s where she wants to be.
“Back in 2010 would have been my time to play in a U-17 World Cup, but obviously not being there and making it to Japan makes this one more special,” she said. “The lessons learned back then were harsh but so valuable. You have to prepare for every game the same, take it one game at a time and then move forward. Nothing is given.”
Morgan is quick to point out that even with more than five years of national team experience behind her she’s still just a rising sophomore in college with a lot to learn. While she’s always been mature for her age, she’s in no rush to grow up too soon.
“I just love being with my teammates and we are always having a fun time,” said Morgan. “This is a great group of girls and they are all talented players. We want to enjoy this experience as much as possible because you never know when you could have it again.”
But with just six months left as a teenager, what would Brian say if she could go back in time and talk to her 15-year-old self?
“I would say so much,” said Brian. “I would tell her that when you are young, you want things to happen right now and it doesn’t work that way. There’s always adversity to face. You have to have patience and give yourself time to mature. If you do the hard work and do the right things, good things will happen for you.”
Things like getting the opportunity to represent your country on the world’s stage.