But from the moment she started at Cal as a freshman, even as she worked her way back from torn knee ligaments, Morgan has ingratiated herself with whatever team she has played on. She graduated from Cal in three-and-a-half years despite not only playing for the varsity but at various points leaving to train with the national under-20 team or the national team itself. And in both places, she worked to fit in.
“She’s blessed with tremendous humility,” McGuire said. “She’s very grounded. She works so hard for her teammates, and her teammates really care for her.”
At the national team level, that wouldn’t seem to be a given. But Morgan believes, “Everyone is equal on this team.” And there is a strong feeling that if you perform, any outside attention is not only fine, but helpful in drawing attention to a sport that still needs it.
“I think she’s done brilliant with it, because she is showing it on the field, but she’s an amazing role model off as well,” said veteran Christie Rampone, a national team member since Morgan was 6. “Even if it was all about her, the team is behind it, anywhere we can grow this sport. And as long as faces are out there, there’s going to be superstars on every team, and if everybody does their role, and just kind of back it up, we’ll all be successful.”
But after these Olympics — regardless of what happens Thursday — there is nowhere stateside where these women can continue their success. Twice, top-flight American leagues have folded. Morgan clearly hopes that a gold medal Thursday would provide even more interest — and, more importantly, financial backing, by perhaps the turn of the year.
“If nothing comes about,” she said, “then I’ll have to look abroad.”
Which would be sending the potential poster child of American women’s soccer for the next decade overseas. That, though, is a discussion for Friday and beyond. On Tuesday morning, Morgan was still aglow after the goal against Canada. On Thursday night, she will line up at Wembley Stadium in London, drawing not only eyes but defenders.
“Honestly, I had no doubt that I would be on this team in this moment,” Morgan said. “But I had no idea what my role was going to be.”
It is a pivotal, potentially sport-changing role. At these Olympics, “Baby Horse” is all grown up.
“She was kind of wild,” Rapinoe said. “And now she’s a beautiful stallion.”