Virginia’s Morgan Brian stepping right in for U.S. national women’s soccer team


Abby Wambach, warming up for the Western New York Flash prior to Saturday’s NWSL title game against Portland, heads the U.S. squad for Tuesday’s friendly against Mexico at RFK Stadium. (Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
September 2, 2013

This was Morgan Brian’s holiday weekend:

Score the tying goal for the University of Virginia women’s soccer team against Penn State on Friday night. Report to practice the next day. Play the first half against Richmond on Sunday, then watch the sixth-ranked Cavaliers breeze to a fourth consecutive victory. Shortly thereafter, hop into her parents’ rental car. Arrive in Washington two hours later. Join the U.S. women’s national team for training Monday morning at RFK Stadium.

“It’s been crazy,” she said. “Crazy but fun.”

Fun will turn into fulfillment if, as expected, she makes an appearance in a friendly Tuesday night against Mexico — the top-ranked Americans’ first visit to Washington in more than five years.

Brian joins a squad carrying a 34-game unbeaten streak over 18 months and a 72-game run at home since 2004.

The junior midfielder was among three college players summoned by U.S. Coach Tom Sermanni for the team’s first gathering since June. Superstars Abby Wambach, Hope Solo and Alex Morgan are here. So are veterans Christie Rampone, Carli Lloyd and Heather O’Reilly.

But with a new World Cup cycle underway, Sermanni is eager for a closer look at the rising class from the youth national teams. North Carolina defender Crystal Dunn and Illinois midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo also have interrupted their college seasons. At 20, Brian is the youngest among the 18 invited to Washington.

“She is a bit reserved, a little shy like any new kid would be,” said Wambach, 33, the greatest scorer in women’s soccer history. “But she is so confident on the ball. What surprised me the most: She doesn’t make young-kid mistakes.”

Brian has climbed the national team pyramid, starting at the under-14 level in 2007. She captained the U-17 squad. Last fall, with Virginia Coach Steve Swanson guiding the U.S. team, Brian started all six matches at the Under-20 World Cup in Japan and scored in the semifinals of the championship campaign.

She made her senior national team debut this summer against South Korea.

“I had seen her with the youth teams, so I knew she had some talent, but you never know about the step-up from the underage levels to the national team,” Sermanni said. “Quite often, somebody new comes in, the [veterans] need [to become] comfortable before they pass the ball to you. Within a couple of days — bang — she was getting the ball and dominating games.”

Brian said her comfort level with the elite squad stems from her extended time in the system.

“Those experiences have helped me because it’s not too new for me,” she said. “You can’t be in awe. If you are, you are going to lose opportunities like this to come back and step in the door. You have to be confident and believe you are going to be there just as much as any other player.”

Brian has applied her international experience at the NCAA level. In 2011, she posted 11 goals and eight assists to earn ACC freshman of the year honors. Soccer America named her the nation’s top freshman, and the college coaches’ association voted her a first-team all-American. Last season, after missing the first third of the campaign to attend the Under-20 World Cup, she helped guide the Cavaliers to the ACC title and the NCAA tournament’s round of 16.

This fall, Brian has recorded two goals and three assists as Virginia has outscored four opponents 16-3.

On Sunday, her parents were in attendance for the 3-0 victory over Richmond at Klockner Stadium. They had planned their trip from St. Simons Island, Ga., well before their daughter was named to the national team roster. So after the match, they drove her to the team hotel in downtown Washington. They will attend the friendly, then head home the next morning.

Brian found a ride back to Charlottesville: Swanson and the Cavaliers are bussing up for the game and will welcome her aboard.

“It’s a great experience with the national team, being around players I have looked up to,” the kinesiology major said. “I want to learn everything I can.”

U.S. notes: Morgan (sprained knee) is expected to play a portion of the game after returning from a 3 1 / 2-week absence Saturday. She logged 19 minutes during the Portland Thorns’ 2-0 win over the Western New York Flash in the National Women’s Soccer League final. . . .

Because of injuries and European club commitments, several regulars are absent: Megan Rapinoe, Ali Krieger, Kelley O’Hara, Tobin Heath, Amy LePeilbet, Shannon Boxx, Whitney Engen and Christen Press. . . .

Mexico’s roster includes Washington Spirit midfielder Lupita Worbis. . . . The Americans lead the all-time series 26-1-1. Three of the four most recent meetings, however, have been decided by one goal. . . .

About 10,000 tickets had been sold by Friday. The U.S. Soccer Federation is expecting about 13,000. . . . The U.S. squad’s previous appearance at RFK was a 6-0 victory over Canada in May 2008.

Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.
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