Alex Morgan gives U.S. the advantage

The best young women's player in America? Clearly, it's Diamond Bar's Alex Morgan, who came up huge in stoppage Saturday to give the U.S. an advantage in its Women's World Cup qualifying series against Italy.

Morgan (Diamond Bar HS), a 21-year-old senior at the University of California who had come off the bench in the 86th minute, raced into the Italian box in the 94th minute to finish a Carli Lloyd long ball flicked on by Hermosa Beach's Abby Wambach to send the Americans home with a 1-0 lead midway through the home-and-home series.

The second leg is next Saturday in Bridgeview, Ill. The victor joins the 16-nation field in Germany next summer.

The goal was Morgan's fourth in eight international matches. Her college career closed last week with Cal's first-round loss to Duke in the NCAA Division I women's tournament, and she'll be one of three players -- along with Stanford Christen Press (Palos Verdes Estates/Chadwick School) and Portland's Sophie Schmidt -- vying to be the top pick in Women's Professional Soccer's draft.

Press, a likely consensus college player of the year, has played for the U.S. at youth levels but never for the full national team. Same thing for UCLA junior Sydney Leroux, the fourth of college soccer's big quartet. Schmidt is an established Canadian national-teamer.

Italy was kept in the game by goalkeeper Anna Picarelli, a former standout at St. Joseph High School in Lakewood and Pepperdine, who was superb in denying Megan Rapinoe, Amy Rodriguez (Lake Forest/Santa Margarita HS and USC), Lauren Cheney (UCLA) and Wambach.

The other local to play: Redondo Beach's Shannon Boxx (South Torrance HS), as always the leader of the U.S. midfield.