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Interview with US soccer star Alex Morgan

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U.S. soccer star and beautiful cover girl Alex Morgan has taken on a new venture to raise awareness for 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil to teenage American soccer players by promoting Copa Coca-Cola, a free international youth tournament culminating in a trip to Brazil for the winners.

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Morgan, 23, swept onto the U.S. soccer scene a few years ago and now is the third-highest scoring player on the U.S. Women’s National Team with 40 goals in 70 appearances, behind only legend Abby Wambach (163) and veteran Carli Lloyd (46). Morgan was a two-time finalist (2012, 2013) for the Balon d’Or - the ultimate international soccer award - and also appeared in Sports Illustrated's body paint issue.

Domestically, Morgan is a leading lady in the new National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), now entering it’s second season. Playing for the Portland Thorns in 2013, Morgan scored eight goals - including two game-winning goals, added five assists and ripped off 82 shots including a whopping 44 shots on goal, all while suffering the most fouls (26) on the team.

Yesterday, I sat down and spoke with Morgan about the Copa Coca-Cola tournament, the countries she’ll root for in World Cup, her possible transfer to expansion Houston Dash to be near her new Houston Dynamo fiancé, and also about the controversies surrounding MLS teams affiliating with women’s teams.

LE: Tell me about Copa Coca-Cola and its World Cup connection.

Morgan: I’m really excited to team up with Coca-Cola to help promote Copa Coca-Cola, which is a national youth tournament that teenagers can sign up for free online and be a part of a great tournament and get a chance to get a free trip to Brazil. I’m looking forward to working with Copa Coca-Cola in the future as well, and it’s been great to help create excitement around the tournament and the World Cup coming up.

It’s good for kids to follow teams, both the USA and other teams - Brazil, Spain, whatever teams they follow – and possibly get a chance to be in Brazil during the World Cup. It’s exciting for me to share and hopefully for teenagers to register and be a part of it.

LE: Will both a winning girls team and a boys team win the trip to Brazil?

Morgan: Yes, and there will be a girls final and a boys final. Initially, there will be 10 local tournaments in major cities around the U.S. and then the finalists from those cities will go to Los Angeles. Then, from the girls champion team and the boys champion team, there will be two girls and two boys from each team that will win a chance to go to Brazil and be a part of a soccer camp during World Cup in Brazil and be part of the excitement in Brazil.

Copa Coca-Cola builds excitement for the World Cup and gives teenagers a chance to go out and live an active, healthy lifestyle, be a part of the community and continue playing the game of soccer, the game that I love.

LE: Can Boston-area teenagers compete in the New York regional tournament?

Morgan: Yes, the New York region will be the closest for Boston and registration is free for anyone around the country.

LE: Besides the USA, which countries are you going to root for at World Cup?

Morgan: Besides the U.S., I always root for Spain because I like the way they play and I love the way Barcelona plays and there’s a lot of Spanish players in the club Barcelona. I’m also really looking forward to seeing how Brazil does because it’s been a long time since they’ve shown their best soccer in a World Cup. With the whole country behind them, I think they’ll do pretty well, so I’m looking forward to seeing how far they make it.

LE: Rumors are flying that you might transfer from Portland Thorns to expansion Houston Dash now that you’re engaged to Houston Dynamo’s Servando Carrasco, who was traded from Seattle Sounders this September. What are the odds of that trade happening this offseason?

Morgan: Honestly, I’m really happy where I am with the Portland Thorns and think it really is the best organization in the NWSL right now. I get along with the coach and the whole organization, so I don’t think the odds are very high for me of changing teams. First, it doesn’t work that easily with professional teams and second, I’m happy where I am currently.

LE: Some MLS teams have affiliations with women’s teams and the Portland Timbers have a relationship with the Portland Thorns. How closely are the two teams intertwined?

Morgan: We have different team schedules, but I was able to go to a couple Timbers games while I was in season with the Thorns and was able to bring some of my family to the games as well. The organization was very accommodating with us and it was great to have them help me and my family out with tickets for the Timbers games. I didn’t get to meet much of the Timbers. I saw them sometimes around our apartment complex, but we didn’t really have any meet-and-greets together or anything like that.

LE: There’s controversy whether there should be affiliation between MLS and women’s teams. With affiliation, women’s teams can reap the benefits of brand name recognition, in-place sponsorship and economies of scale regarding shared facilities and administrative staff, but on the other hand there’s a loss of independence. What’s your take on the pros and cons of women’s teams affiliating with MLS teams?

Morgan: I’ve been a part of both, being a part of the Western New York Flash a couple years ago and the Portland Thorns currently. I’m really happy with the professionalism that the Portland organization displayed last year in bringing on a women’s team and I thought that they handled the inaugural season really well. And so with that experience, I’m all for MLS organizations bringing on NWSL expansion teams. But I was also happy with my experience with the Western New York Flash.

Using Houston as an example as well, they’re bringing on an NWSL expansion team and I’m looking forward to seeing how their first season goes. I’ve talked to the president of the Dynamo [Chris Canetti] and my fiancé is playing for the Dynamo and we’ll see in the future how Houston does. But Portland was a great example of how successful an MLS and NWSL affiliation can be.

LE: World Cup Champion and former Boston Breakers coach Tony DiCicco signed on as consultant to the Dash, and MLS and USMNT star Brian Ching signed on as managing director. It is also true that Mia Hamm is playing a role there?

Morgan: I can’t speak for Mia, but I think she has possibly given direction in some sort of way to the Houston Dash. The women’s soccer community is very close and we all want each other to succeed and we want the U.S. Women’s National team to succeed, so if we want the Houston team to be successful, Mia and people like Julie Foudy are definitely willing to help teams out.

LE: Over time, there’s been a constant flux of women’s leagues and clubs and team names, and that’s disturbing to me because the history of women’s soccer in the United States is difficult for fans and media to keep track of. That flux undermines the profile and history of women’s pro soccer in the U.S. and its history is somehow erased. Can you speak to that?

Morgan: Well, there’s truth to that. At our end of it, we want to keep the teams that formed for the inaugural [NWSL] season and obviously we welcome Houston as the ninth team, but we don’t want any teams to fold or not be a part of NWSL in the future. So that’s why US Soccer became a part of the NWSL and helped them out financially and with guidance because obviously, the last two leagues haven’t worked out or lasted longer than a few years. And for the players as well, it’s not ideal because we want a consistent league that we can play in. We don’t want to have to go abroad for a couple years and come back for a couple years. I think they’re doing it right now, after a couple times of possibly not doing it right, having the WPS and WUSA fold. So I’m looking forward to the future, but it’s not only frustrating for the fans and media, but for the players as well. It’s our future, it’s our career and so we want to keep a job and continue our careers as long as possible and that means having a women’s professional league here in the U.S.

LE: Are there any other nations in this hemisphere interested in joining up with the USA, Canada and Mexico to support their national team players in the NWSL?

Morgan: For the near future in 2014, there’s just going to be Canada, Mexico and the US, but I have heard there’s interest from other nations, but nothing that’s been confirmed at this point for the 2014 season. The better the quality gets and the more professional the league and teams continue to be, the more interest we’ll get from other nations to join it.

LE: Any clues about who those interested nations might be?

Morgan: I really haven’t heard of any other nation but Brazil as a possibility, but I don’t think it worked out for Brazil this year. Hopefully, in the future they’ll be joining us because Brazilian players are very technical players and I think it would help out their nation and our league quality-wise for them – not only Marta, but other players on the Brazilian national team to be a part of this league.

End

Read more about MLS/women's league affiliations below:

MLS-WPS affiliation: Philadelphia Independence owner David Halstead looks ahead Part 1 and Part 2

DC United EVP Stephen Zack reveals DC United Women partnership

FC Dallas launches 1st WPSL team funded by MLS club: Interview with Chris Hayden

Tim Holt, USL president: W-League and MLS affiliation

Amanda Duffy: Colorado Rapids now 5th MLS team with W-League team

Alexi Lalas: WPS should affiliate and associate with MLS

WPS Philly's Halstead looks at new options for women's pro league

Chris Hummer: DC United affiliation jumpstarts DC United Women

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