Soccer is one of my passions, although I don’t often write about it here. I wasn’t planning to either, but I ran across the freeze-frame above of Alex Morgan setting up what would be the third goal in the USA’s 3-1 victory over France in the World Cup semifinal. Besides the fact that Morgan hails from my hometown of Diamond Bar, California, and is also a Cal Golden Bear, I love this shot because it captures in an instant what makes this sport so beautifully challenging.
So let’s play soccer coach for a moment. You’re the striker, what do you do?
A: cut to your right to get a better angle on goal, but this takes you into the path of the trailing defenders and the best you can probably hope for is an awkward challenge and a penalty;
B: shoot early and try to swerve one to the far post before the keeper cuts down the angle any further, but that requires an awful lot of body control to get your hips turned enough while running at pace and then a skilled touch to get enough bend on the ball; or
C: take another touch or two and continue running toward the end line, but with each step the keeper gets closer and the angle gets narrower.
This illustrates just how difficult this sport is. Even on an almost-breakaway, the kind of scoring opportunity forwards dream about, there is no easy option. Morgan, without the benefit of freeze-frame, chose “C” instinctually and then recognized that the keeper had stood her ground so there wouldn’t be space to get around her and still shoot on goal. She could have then tried to shoot a low hard shot at the near post, but that almost certainly would have been saved or gone into the side nettting—the outcome of probably 90% of such chances. Instead, Morgan had both the skill and composure to deftly chip over the top after the keeper had already committed to getting low.
This was a true forward’s goal. There have been some great strikes in this tournament, particularly from distance, but I’m not sure there’s been a higher-quality finish. Well done, Alex! And well done, USA!!!
Click here for complete highlights of the match; footage of the Morgan goal begins at 1:45.