After nearly a decade of crisscrossing the country and the globe for her professional career, Alex Morgan is headed home to Southern California.
Morgan is joining the San Diego Wave, which will begin play in the National Women’s Soccer League next season.
“I think something I’m really excited about is that I’ve made a long-term commitment to this club,” she told The Associated Press. “I see myself being in San Diego through my playing career. I see my family settling down in San Diego.”
The addition of the Wave and Angel City FC in Los Angeles will bring the league to 12 teams in its 10th season. Former Manchester United coach Casey Stoney will lead San Diego in its inaugural year.
Morgan was one of the NWSL’s original players when the league launched in 2013. She spent three seasons with the Portland Thorns before joining the expansion Orlando Pride. She also had stints in Europe with Lyon and Tottenham Hotspur — and she took time off for the birth of her daughter, Charlie.
Morgan, who is from San Dimas, California, feels a bit bittersweet about leaving the Pride, which failed to make the playoffs this season for the third straight time.
“I really did love my time in Orlando, it was six years, give or take, with pregnancy and a couple of other hurdles, world championships and things like that. But it was an incredible run and I just wish that we could have made more of an impact on the field,” she said. “I wish I could have left with more of a grin on my face knowing that we had to accomplished what we set our minds to in Year 1.”
The move to San Diego, set to be announced in a trade Monday, reunites Morgan with former national team coach Jill Ellis, who is president of the Wave.
“This is an incredibly special moment for our club, our fans, and our community to welcome Alex and her family to San Diego. She is an extraordinary person, a great talent and a leader on and off the field,” Ellis said.
Ellis led the United States to back-to-back World Cup titles in 2015 and 2019. Morgan was fixture on both teams.
Morgan first grabbed attention during the 2011 World Cup as the youngest player to make the U.S. squad. She scored in the final, which Japan won on penalty kicks. At the 2019 World Cup in France, she scored five goals in the opener against Thailand. The United States went on to win the title with a 2-0 victory over the Netherlands.
She has 115 career goals in 190 matches for the United States.
In an interview ahead of San Diego’s announcement, Morgan addressed the future of the league, which was thrown into turmoil this season.
Former players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim came forward with allegations of sexual harassment and coercion against longtime league coach Paul Riley.
The fallout was dramatic. Riley was immediately fired by the North Carolina Courage, NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird stepped down, and both the league and U.S. Soccer commissioned outside investigations.
Riley was one of five coaches in the NWSL who were dismissed this season amid reports of misconduct. Richie Burke, coach of the Washington Spirit, was fired for violating the league’s harassment policy after former player Kaiya McCullough leveled allegations of abusive behavior.
OL Reign coach Farid Benstiti was dismissed over the summer after an incident at practice, Racing Louisville’s Christy Holly was terminated for cause and Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames stepped down last month just as allegations of inappropriate behavior came out.
Morgan said the NWSL needs to be held accountable for allowing misconduct to go unchecked.
“I think there were just a lot of steps missed, a lot of corners cut and you have to look back and go, ‘We can’t do that moving forward. We can’t cut corners.’ And so that’s what I feel like the league needs to address moving forward, it needs to look itself in the eye and really ask for the players’ trust by showing that they can do it the right way,” Morgan said.
Morgan said a good start would be reaching a collective bargaining agreement with the NWSL Players’ Association. In addition to player wages, safety and health, among the issues she would like to see tackled are the NWSL’s long offseason and international breaks so teams aren’t depleted during national team absences.
“Part of me is very hopeful because of the proactiveness of the players, of just the willingness by the players to be vocal, supportive — really digging in their heels to change this league, and not only make it survive, but flourish,” Morgan said. “Part of me is not so hopeful in terms of the speed at which things are going right now.”
One of the league’s loudest voices for change, Morgan is a staunch advocate for amplifying women’s voices. She founded the digital platform Togethxr with fellow athletes Simone Manuel, Sue Bird and Chloe Kim, to tell women’s stories.
“I know at this moment, I want to make sure that I’m able to grow women’s soccer, I’m able to at least weed out the bad apples, and make it amazing for the next generation, for my daughter — but also make it so women don’t have to have second, third, fourth jobs along the way as well. I know that I’m very fortunate, but I realize more women aren’t able to do that,” she said. “I want to make sure that changes.”
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports