USA’s FIFA Women’s World Cup™ winning team boasted numerous headline-grabbing stars, but there was one important ingredient in the side who was invariably left out of the limelight – midfielder Morgan Brian. The 22-year-old Brian was the youngest player on the pitch for the Stars and Stripes in their now storied win over Japan in the Canada 2015 decider, yet a polished display on the biggest stage of all belied her relative inexperience.
It was Brian’s adept handling of the defensive midfield position - a role so important in the modern game – that allowed fellow midfielder and adidas Golden Ball winner Carli Lloyd to be played in a more advanced position in the final three matches; a move which arguably was the circuit-breaker that led USA to glory.
Yet Brian is the first to admit that starting as No6 in the final three matches initially came about through chance, following suspensions to fellow midfielders Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday. Though not her natural position, Brian showed her all-round technical prowess with a proficient handling of the role. And her arrival into the starting line-up coincided with a revival of fortunes for a USA campaign that had yet to fully find momentum heading into the quarter-finals. Lloyd commenced a streak of rare goalscoring form and the Stars and Stripes were on track for their third Women’s World Cup title.
Brian, though, six weeks after that epic win in Canada, is still struggling to get to grips with the enormity of what happened under Vancouver’s hazy skies that Sunday in early July. “I don’t think it will ever sink in,” Brian told FIFA.com. “We have been pretty busy since the World Cup Final, with a bunch of media engagements and going back to our professional teams. It has been pretty crazy and I haven’t had time to let it sink in.
“I’m really glad we won,” Brian says, when asked about her emotions whenever thoughts turn to Canada 2015. “The World Cup is such an emotional roller-coaster in terms of playing the game, and the pressure and expectations. But it was so much fun and we wrote ourselves a pretty cool story. A lot of preparation goes into winning a World Cup, but it was a great month of soccer and looking back, it was a great journey.”
I don’t think it will ever sink in.
USA had been a fairly settled side under coach Jill Ellis with few young players enjoying regular starting spots, so it was little surprise that Brian – the youngest player on the Stars and Stripes squad in Canada - is still coming to grips with her influence at the business end of the tournament. “I definitely didn’t expect it to happen like that,” the Georgia native says. “For the whole year I was in and out of the starting line-up. Coming into the World Cup it was just playing whatever role I could and being the best team-mate I could, whether it was starting, coming off the bench or not playing at all. If those [suspensions] hadn’t happened, I’m not sure I would have been in the starting line-up.
“It [defensive midfield] was quite a different role for me. The national team is the only team I have played holding mid. I have always played the attacking midfield role for pretty much every team I have played for. When I came into the national team when I was 20-years-old we had a bunch of attacking midfielders, and Jill [Ellis] told me that spot was open, and if I could learn that role I would have a good chance of starting. I had to learn that position, and really embrace it. I had to stop myself going forward plenty of times, and I found a way to make my game better in different areas so it was a good role for me.”
Living the dream
Despite being the youngest player in the squad, Brian has memories, albeit limited, of the famous 1999 Women’s World Cup Final when USA last triumphed. “I don’t remember watching the 99-ers winning the World Cup, but I do remember having a bunch of their posters on my wall,” Brian said. “Being only six I don’t really remember the game details exactly, but I do remember the aftermath and celebrations, and having my fix on that. Ever since I saw them do that, I wanted to do that as well in the future.”
If fulfilling a childhood fantasy was not surreal enough, then a mass-attended greeting through the streets of New York City undoubtedly was. A few days after lifting the trophy in Vancouver, the US players became the first female sporting team to be feted in that manner through the streets of the Big Apple. “The ticker-tape parade in New York City was probably the coolest thing that everyone on our team has been a part of,” Brian says with a smile in her voice. “Everyone was pretty shocked. There were so many people there and it was ground-breaking. It was a pretty cool day for everyone. You could really tell the impact we had on the country since we had been in Canada.”
Brian’s image is undoubtedly now adorning the walls of youngsters across the United States, just as Mia Hamm and co did in her own bedroom all those years ago. While the dream has already become reality for Morgan Brian, hers is a story that surely still has many chapters to be written.