Alex Morgan fulfills European ambition by joining Lyon
It started with an audacious tweet from a long-serving French club president, and it ended with American star Alex Morgan joining Lyon to fulfill her growing ambition of discovering European football.
Holding up a No. 13 jersey, Morgan was officially presented to the media on Saturday, a day after she signed her contract and nearly three weeks after it was announced that she was joining from Orlando Pride on a six-month deal with an option for a further season.
Morgan has made 120 appearances for the United States and has scored 73 goals, winning the Olympics in 2012 and the Women's World Cup last year in Canada. Joining three-time European champion Lyon was too good a chance for the skillful forward to miss.
"I know about the club because it's been a club that has won many championships throughout the last 10 years," Morgan said Saturday. "I was very interested immediately a couple of years ago, when I looked up playing in Europe. But the opportunity presented itself this year, and I wanted to take advantage of that."
Jean-Michel Aulas became Lyon's president 30 years ago, and under his guidance, the men's team won seven straight French leagues from 2002 to '08 and reached the Champions League semifinals in 2010. Aulas has also worked tirelessly to promote the women's team -- which has won the league 14 times -- and this persuaded him to take a gamble by contacting Morgan directly on social media.
"I found it funny that the president tweeted me to ask me to join," Morgan said. "I thought that it was a fantastic opportunity."
Aulas said negotiations to bring Morgan to France took a while.
"I spoke with her agents for a long time," he said. "She's a star -- not just in terms of football but in terms of communication."
Lyon is challenging big-spending Paris Saint-Germain, which is bankrolled by the club's Qatari owners, QSI, for the title this season. A 1-0 defeat to PSG last month was Lyon's first league loss in more than two years.
The women's league -- called D1 Feminine -- resumes next weekend with a match in Brittany against Guingamp, and Morgan could play. She will form what looks on paper like a devastating attacking partnership with France striker Eugenie Le Sommer, who has 186 goals since she joined Lyon in 2010.
At the 2012 London Olympics, Morgan scored a dramatic winner against Canada in the semifinals. A year earlier, she scored in the 2011 Women's World Cup final, which the U.S. lost to Japan on penalty kicks.
Aulas is confident that Morgan's arrival will boost the profile of women's football.
"All the big clubs are creating women's teams, and in terms of the media, the [television] rights are improving in a very big way," Aulas said. "Our ambition is to prepare the years ahead. We want to become a reference for women's football."
Morgan will return to play for the Pride after Lyon's season ends in June. A star in the National Women's Soccer League, she previously played for Western New York Flash and Portland Thorns, and she was named U.S. female soccer athlete of the year in 2012.
Signing Morgan, Aulas said, reflected a "fierce determination to sign one of the best players" in the world.
His tweet to Morgan certainly paid off.
"Little by little, the rumor grew, and she wanted to check it out," Aulas said. "She came here discreetly, and we resisted all temptation to say that things were underway. She came to see concretely what Lyon is all about."
Aulas added that an internet series will be made about Morgan this season focusing on "the life of an American woman in Lyon."