The Abby and Alex show opened with tremendous promise in 2011, took the world by storm a year later and now, just three years after winning Olympic gold the one time blockbuster looks to ring the curtain down with a World Cup winning performance in Canada.
The question is, can they? In 2011 coach Pia Sundhage would unleash Morgan from the bench, and already softened up by Wambach and company, opposing teams would be overwhelmed by Morgan’s combination of speed, power and skill.
Standing on the field at Red Bull Arena after the South Korea match, this was the image Wambach conjured. “We need her (Morgan) to win,” Wambach said plainly. “I’m confident if she doesn’t start games. I’m confident if she comes off the bench that we still can succeed in the World Cup.”
Then Wambach reached back those early days of the Abby and Alex Show. “Think of it from the opposites perspective,” Wambach asked. Putting herself in the shoes of the opposing defenders Wambach imagined this scenario.
“Alex Morgan hasn’t played a single minute and she comes on fresh. Whether it’s the second, third, fourth game, if I’m the opposing team I’m scared as heck, I’m scared as heck for sure.”
In 2011 Sundhage elected to bring Morgan off of the bench, now as Jill Ellis leads this team in pursuit of a first World Cup title since 1999, the choice has been taken from the coach’s hands.
“In terms of Alex, we’re building her,” Ellis stated at her post match press conference. “You know realistically,” Ellis continued, “she’s been off for a while, so in terms of minutes that’s something we’re going to have to build through the early games to be ready.” “We don’t,” Ellis concluded ominously, “want to blow her up too early, in terms of physically being ready.”
With Morgan coming off the bench at the 2011 World Cup in Germany the Americans fell agonizingly short of winning the Cup, losing to a very talented Japan side on penalty kicks.
By the time 2012 rolled around Morgan was in the starting lineup and the Abby and Alex Show had reached its peak. Wambach scored 27 goals, Morgan 28. The younger star added 21 assists to join Mia Hamm as the only U.S. woman to have a season with 20 and 20.
Wambach won the Ballon d’Or with Morgan finishing third and when the Americans avenged that World Cup loss by edging Japan at the London Olympics, it looked as if the Abby and Alex Show would run forever.
After the Olympics Sundhage left to coach her native Sweden, replaced by Tom Sermanni. Sermanni introduced several new players, rankling some of the established stars, but success continued with Morgan winning the CONCACAF Female Player of the Year for 2013.
Then came the disaster of the 2014 Algarve Cup, which led to Sermanni being replaced by Ellis. Morgan injured her ankle and with her co-star out and Wambach beginning to show her age, the Abby and Alex Show began to falter.
Back from that ankle problem and trying to regain her sharpness, Morgan injured her knee. And that is where things stand as the U.S. WNT heads to Canada with hopes of winning that elusive World Cup.
Wambach may or may not continue on until next year’s Rio Olympics, but she has made it plain that she wants a World Cup, and this will be her last chance.
The American team is loaded with talent and depth in the attacking positions. Sydney Leroux, Christen Press and Amy Rodriguez are gifted strikers, while midfielder Carli Lloyd outscores most forwards.
But Wambach is still Wambach. When the U.S. needs a big goal, it’s only natural to look to the game’s all time leader in international goals.
What does Morgan have to say about all of this? Not much. Morgan, who hasn’t played since April hasn’t been available to media in recent days. At Wednesday’s Media Day she said that she would be ready.
But Wambach summed it up when she said, “we need her (Morgan) to win.” Ellis has plenty of talent to call on and coaches the world over would gladly take her troubles.
But if this United States team is to take its place beside alongside the legendary 99ers it may need one last show stopping performance of The Abby and Alex Show.