The U.S. Women's National League is killing it as the team enters the quarterfinals Friday, and one member particularly standing out is Morgan Brian, the U.S. team's youngest player. The 22-year-old midfielder, despite being the youngest on the team, has repeatedly played throughout this summer's FIFA Women's World Cup and is likely to see more field time during America's crucial game against China in the Final Four. To say that Brian's ascent to stardom has been quick would be an understatement. Just some months ago, she was taking classes and playing for the University of Virginia's women's soccer team.
I had the chance to see the Georgia native in action two years ago when I attended a UVA soccer match. At the time, I had no idea who Brian was. She hadn't yet graduated from college soccer onto a national stage. I didn't know that she would become the fifth woman to ever receive the Hermann trophy twice, once in 2013 and again in 2014.
By now, Brian is an old hand at competing in World Cup matches, having played on the 2010 U-17 Women's World Cup team in Costa Rica when she was 15, and then helping lead the 2012 U-20 Women's World Cup team to gold in Japan at age 17. During the 2012 tournament, Brian played in all six matches as well as scored one goal. It's safe to say that she's excited for the real deal now though.
“This is the real World Cup, so it is different,” Brian told the Washington Post. “I will pretend it’s the same as the youth World Cups. It was a good dry run for the real thing.”
Brian currently plays for the Houston Dash in Houston, Texas, having joined the team this year. Unless you're an avid soccer fan, you likely haven't heard of the Dashes before, even though they sent two of their players to this year's World Cup (Meghan Klingenberg being the second). That's because the team was founded in 2014, only one year after the National Women's Soccer League was established. There have been four different national women's soccer leagues over the past 20 years. All the previous ones have gone under.
But rather than be worried about the state of soccer, Brian draws inspiration from the past in order to look toward the future. The last time the U.S. women's team won the World Cup, Brian was 6-years-old and mostly unaware of the game. But shortly afterward she put up a poster of Brandi Chastain, the woman who secured the United States' second win. This summer, Brian has been sharing the field with Christie Rampone, who helped achieve the victory in 1996. Rampone, who just turned 40, is the only player left from the original team.
Though Brian has risen quickly, she wasn't always sure she would succeed in soccer. Because she was small and younger than many players, she was called "Plankton," and her dreams were nearly crushed when she was the only one on her team who wasn't chosen for the Olympic Development Program team. But her love of the game and dedication paid off, and took her all the way to the top.
“For me, I have always been a spectator and woken up at crazy times to watch games and go crazy," Brian told the Washington Post. "It’s such a cool thing to be a part of it instead of watching it.”