EDMONTON, Alberta -- Amid another tepid Women's World Cup performance from the U.S. national team, there was a beacon of light to take away from Monday's 2-0 defeat of Colombia.
Alex Morgan is back amongst the goal scorers again.
The mere thought of Morgan not being on the score sheet for any sustained length of time seems unthinkable at first, such is the talent she has displayed since making her breakthrough at the World Cup four years ago. But 2015 has proved to be the most unusual of years for the U.S. forward. Just before the start of the tournament, there was concern Morgan might not play at all in the World Cup. The now well-chronicled bone bruise in Morgan's left knee was slow to heal, so much so she admitted that back in May she had a "minor freak-out." But a couple of deep breaths, along with some words of wisdom from Abby Wambach, got her mind right, and time did the rest.
And not a moment too soon. Monday's round of 16 encounter looked like one of those games that just might slip away from the Americans. The first-half performance from the United States was borderline brutal against an inspired Colombian side. But then Morgan changed the game. She broke through on a clear breakaway two minutes into the second half, only to be fouled by Colombia goalkeeper Catalina Perez, who was red-carded. A penalty was given, but Wambach breathed considerable life into Las Cafeteras by skewing the ensuing penalty wide with her weaker left foot.
Afterward, Wambach said she had practiced taking penalties with her left foot for the past two to three months. As for what led her to do that, Wambach simply said, "The fact that I've taken a lot with my right foot."
It was left to Morgan to put matters right. Six minutes later, she took a pass from Ali Krieger and scored past substitute goalkeeper Stefany Castaño thanks to a little Jedi mind trick.
"I was actually looking to cross it at that point before I shot it," Morgan said. "Then I saw her leaning because she knew I was going to cross it, so at the last second I changed my mind to shoot it. It didn't have as much power on it as I would have wanted, but it went in and that's all that matters."
Morgan added that it had been so long since she scored for the United States, she couldn't remember the last time it happened. For the record, it came on March 6 in an Algarve Cup match against Switzerland. No matter, Morgan feels now she and the team can move forward.
"It's definitely a little bit of a sigh of relief," she said. "As a forward we always want to score goals. We're expected to score goals, and we needed that breakthrough at that moment after not converting the penalty. It was a breath of fresh air after I scored."
Morgan provided another breath of fresh air with her postmatch assessment of the Americans' performance. The United States had some early openings against Colombia. Perez denied Tobin Heath on one shot and saved a pair of opportunities from Wambach. But otherwise the half was lackluster, and any success that took place in the second 45 minutes was largely due to playing 11-against-10. Still, manager Jill Ellis said in her postmatch news conference, "I thought we stroked the ball around pretty well at times. I'm pleased with where we are."
This induced a Bill Hader-like bout of eyebrow-raising. Morgan was more on point.
"I think we all knew [the first half] wasn't good enough and not up to our standard," she said. "At the same time we knew we just needed to be patient, that it would come. We were very impatient in the first half, and I feel once we broke through their line of attack and midfield line, we rushed it way too much. Also me and Abby didn't get much of the ball at all. I don't think I had 10 touches in the first half.
"I think just being patient, knowing that it was going to open up in the second half, and it did. But obviously, we want to replicate what we can do in the second half in the first half moving forward."
That will prove more difficult against China with both Lauren Holiday and Megan Rapinoe suspended due to yellow card accumulation. Rapinoe, in particular, will be difficult to replace given the U.S. women have leaned on her heavily in terms of creativity. A forward who might be heating up can help compensate for that, however, and Morgan is showing signs of progress toward that level.
"I feel better and better each game," she said. "I'm seeing my speed, my change of direction, my shot coming back. It feels good and hopefully in the next games it will feel great."
Given how the United States has played so far, it will need to.