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Alex Morgan and Buffalo’s Best Kept Secret

Morgan Starred for U.S.; WNY Flash Dominate Women’s Professional Soccer League

Senior Sports Editor

Published: Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11

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Meg Kinsley /// The Spectrum

Alex Morgan is slowly but surely bringing women’s soccer back to the mainstream.

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            U.S. citizens watched with wide eyes this summer as their women's national soccer team flurried through the 2011 World Cup.

            The squad fell just short in the championship match, but a star emerged from that tournament. She's been on Sportscenter, she's trended on Twitter, and she's signed endorsement deals, but on any given summer day, you can find Alex Morgan playing soccer right outside of Buffalo.

            Seemingly the entire world watched as the U.S. lost in the final World Cup game to Japan, 2-2 in a shootout. Throughout the tournament and final, Morgan emerged as the class of the red, white and blue.

            The 22-year-old phenom was this year's No. 1 overall draft pick of the Women's Professional Soccer League. Morgan was selected by an expansion team - the Western New York Flash.

            In addition to Morgan, the Michael Jordan of women's soccer plays for the Flash; five-time World Player of the Year Marta signed with WNY in January.

            The Flash practice at Sahlen's Sports Park in Elma, NY, which is a mere 20 minutes outside of the city. With the help of Morgan and Marta, the Flash won the WPSL Championship this weekend 2-1 over the Philadelphia Independence in penalty kicks.

            The thrilling championship victory was just another notch on an already impressive inventory of achievements for the young striker. Morgan has seen her popularity rise faster than she ever imagined, and she's enjoyed her rise to fame, but the California native has a greater agenda in mind.

            "Everything right now is relatively new for me," Morgan said. "I'm not going to lie; the attention is a little weird and it's different from what I'm used to, but I definitely want to bring attention to women's soccer in the states. I'm going to help out women's soccer as much as I can. I want to keep turning heads for women's sports in the U.S. and in the world."

            Flash head coach Aaran Lines isn't focused on Morgan's celebrity status. She's just another player in Lines' eyes.

            "I don't pay that much attention to the media," Lines said. "To me, I see our No. 1 draft pick. I watch what she's doing on the field at practice every day. I don't look at what the media is saying about her."

            Morgan believes the after-effect of the 1999 World Cup changed women's soccer forever. Morgan knows that the popularity of women's soccer will die down again because the World Cup only takes place once every four years, but she hopes that people will continue to pay attention. Her professional team practically forced fans to continue taking notice as the Flash tore apart the WPSL when Marta and Morgan returned from the World Cup. The Flash went the final 11 games of the season without suffering a defeat.

            Poetically, WNY began that streak following a 2-1 loss to Philadelphia. The WPSL championship game mirrored Team USA's loss to Japan; both WNY and the U.S. blew late leads and both games headed to penalty kicks. This time, however, Morgan wouldn't settle for second place. The Flash finished the season 14-2-3 as regular season champions and WPS champions.

            Though WNY claimed a championship, Morgan's loss in the World Cup finale remains fresh in her memory.

            "The whole game was very emotional," Morgan said. "I went from scoring the first goal, which was probably the best feeling I'll ever have – I just wanted to cry on the field – to the penalty shootout, which was up and down and very emotionally draining.

            "We were disappointed at the moment; we were heartbroken. We didn't really feel the impact that we had on the U.S. until we got home because we didn't see it firsthand. Coming back to the U.S. and seeing the fans in the airport and in the hotel made us feel proud for the first time since we got the silver medal."

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