Ex-Cal standout Alex Morgan will lead Team USA women's soccer against France 

click to enlarge Alex Morgan - MARTIN ROSE/GETTY IMAGES
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  • Alex Morgan

At first glance, Alex Morgan looks like one of those people who got dealt a stacked hand at birth: she came in at No. 66 in Maxim magazine’s Hot 100 of 2012 list, she’s intelligent and she’s athletically talented. But in reality, the former Cal standout is a product of hard work, dedication and fearlessness.

And as the U.S. Olympic women’s soccer team kicks off pool play against France at 9 a.m. today, fans across the country are hoping Morgan, 23, can use those tools to lead the team to its fourth gold medal since 1996.

Growing up, Morgan played just about every sport — track, volleyball, basketball and softball. But she didn’t compete in her first organized soccer game until she was 14 years old.

“The first day she came out to tryouts, she was very, very raw and bit uncoordinated. The one thing she did have was that explosive speed,” said Dave Sabet, Morgan’s club soccer coach in Cypress. “But the will that she had to continually keep training and practicing and honing her skills — that’s what got her ahead of everybody.”

Morgan scored a breakaway goal within the first five minutes of her first game and by the end of the season, she’d put the ball in the net more than any other player on her team. She never missed a practice, she was never late and at night she worked on the weakest parts of her game.

“Alex was one of those kids who would rather aim high and miss than aim low and hit,” Sabet said. “She was always hungry to get better.”

At age 17, Morgan was invited to play for the under-20 national team, but she suffered a partially torn ACL in her right knee during a scrimmage and was sidelined for most of her senior campaign.

She returned to form at Cal the next year, leading the Bears in goals as freshman. She eventually finished her college career tied as the school’s third all-time leading goal scorer.

“I don’t want to say she was a perfectionist because she wasn’t fearful of making mistakes,” Cal coach Neil McGuire said. “But she certainly was one of the hardest-working athletes I’ve ever coached.”

As a sophomore, she scored the winning goal for the U.S. in the gold-medal game at the 2008 U-20 Women’s World Cup, and one year later, she was called up to join the senior national team.

In 2011, Morgan was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the Women’s Professional Soccer draft (she now plays for the Seattle Sounders) after graduating one semester early.

Her breakout performance came last year at the Women’s World Cup in Germany when she netted goals in the semifinals and final as a substitute (the U.S. lost to Japan). Morgan is now one of the most followed athletes on Twitter and her celebrity exploded after she appeared in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue in body paint in February.

Morgan moved into the national team’s starting lineup this year and she leads the squad with 17 goals in 15 games heading into Olympic competition.

“I just want to show everyone how much I can help contribute to this team’s success,” Morgan said.

Women's Soccer: U.S. vs. France

  • WHEN: Today, 9 a.m.
  • WHERE: Hampden Park, Glasgow, Scotland
  • TV: NBC Sports Network
  • TODAY’S OTHER GAMES: Great Britain vs. New Zealand; Japan vs. Canada; Brazil vs. Cameroon; Sweden vs. South Africa; Colombia vs. North Korea

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Paul Gackle

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