When Alex Morgan scored what appeared to be the game-winning goal over Japan in last summer's World Cup, she had seemingly had her classic breakout moment. In an instant though, the Japanese tied the game and emerged victorious in penalty kicks. Morgan, while certainly remaining in the media forefront with her TV good looks, didn't leave Germany as a hero or icon. Fast forward just one year later, though, and the 23-year-old is once again a national darling, scoring the game-winning goal against Canada in Monday's Olympic semi-final match and propelling the U.S. women into one of their most important soccer games ever. Even so, the 4-3 extra-time win was only part of the magic; Morgan's rise as the new face of women's soccer is the other.
While goalie Hope Solo and striker Abby Wambach remain two of the most decorated players in the game, it is the fast ascending Morgan -- one of Team USA's youngest players -- who may turn out to be its most recognizable after her 123rd-minute striking header against Canada. That goal, which stands alone as the latest ever scored by a member of the U.S. women's national team, has left the Americans with a dream rematch against Japan in the Olympic final.
"I can't remember ever feeling this way," Morgan said afterward. "I've never wanted to cry on a field after scoring a goal."
Such a statement is important to observe when we consider that Morgan has been scoring goals for a very, very long time. She has only been a member of the women's national team since 2010, but her meteoric rise through the soccer ranks has been a long one. After a marvelous career at the University of California, Berkeley, she was selected first overall in the 2011 Women's Professional Soccer draft, where she has since dominated.
In Thursday's gold-medal game, Morgan will be called upon to provide the United States with her normal dose of magic on the pitch. That shouldn't be an issue. Morgan has likely been eyeing this moment her entire life. She told USA Today: "I watched the Olympics when I was a little girl. I remember watching the Beijing finals and it was about 4 or 5 a.m. our time in California, and I was one of the only ones who woke up to watch the match. And at that moment I knew, I'm going to be on this team next Olympics."
That final in 2008 was a 1-0 victory for the U.S. over Brazil, but the vast array of endorsements simply were not as prevalent as they are now. Remember when we all thought that Morgan, Solo and Wambach had squandered a dream opportunity for sponsorships after losing in the World Cup? Well, if Morgan and company bring home Olympic gold, 2011 suddenly becomes a faint memory.
Some of America's darkest times have been followed by its brightest.
Email me at email@example.com or ask me questions about anything sports-related at @Schultz_Report. Tune in Wednesday night, at 7:00ET on CBS and watch Entertainment Tonight Insider as I talk about former Olympic stars.
Plus, check out my HuffPost sports blog, The Schultz Report, for a fresh and daily outlook on all things Olympics and listen to my radio spot on 1280 The Zone Friday afternoons at 1 ET. Also, tune in at 8:30am ET Thursday mornings on Memphis 56 Sports Radio, right here.