Morgan Brian proving she belongs with U.S. Women's National Team
By Ryan Loy, US Youth Soccer Communications
As she stepped onto the field, Morgan Brian grabbed the hand of a young girl about half her size, and they began walking.
The last American player in the single-file line, Brian followed 10 teammates on the short march to midfield. She continued to hold the hand of the small girl, who was not much older than Brian had been when some of those players walking in front of her began their careers with the National Team.
Now, it was the 20-year-old Brian’s turn to take another big step in her young international career.
An alum of several US Youth Soccer programs, Brian made her first start for the U.S. Women’s National Team in a 1-0 win over Canada on Jan. 31 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. Despite being the youngest player currently with the team, Brian looked composed as she played the full 90 minutes in the victory.
Before the game against Canada, U.S. head coach Tom Sermanni praised Brian’s ability to fit in with some of the world’s most talented players despite her young age.
“Historically, players have said how difficult it is to come into this environment as a young player because it can be quite intimidating,” Sermanni said. “She came in, in the middle of last year, and within two days looked like she belonged there. I think that made us aware of how good a player she is.”
In a sometimes-frantic start to the game, Brian appeared to settle in early as she controlled possession from her defensive midfielder position and successfully spread the ball to teammates on both wings. She created the first hopeful roar from the large crowd when she chipped a ball behind the Canadian defense that was just a couple strides too far for teammate Sydney Leroux.
Brian’s growth into a player able to compete in a competitive, physical international game — and have success while doing so — can be traced back to her youth days playing for the Ponte Vedra Storm (FL). Speaking before the Canada game, the midfielder said she had a great youth soccer experience and her teammates in Florida helped make her the player she is today.
Her Ponte Vedra Storm side captured the 2009 US Youth Soccer Region III Championship and was a Regional Finalist the next two years. The squad also gained valuable experience playing in the US Youth Soccer National League in 2009-10, competing against some of the top teams in the country.
It wasn’t until their Under-19 year, playing as Clay County Soccer Club, that the group claimed the US Youth Soccer National Championship that previously eluded them. However, Brian was away with the U.S. Under-20 National Team and had to rely on updates to know what was unfolding at the National Championships — along with another current senior national team player, Samantha Mewis, whose Scorpions Elite (MA) side was the opponent in the final.
“We were both sitting by each other in National Team camp,” Brian recalled. “They went into PKs, so we were both going back and forth getting results.”
While her club team was a big part of her youth soccer career, Brian also made strides individually as a member of the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (US Youth Soccer ODP). The rising senior at the University of Virginia credited the program with accelerating her national identification.
“[US Youth Soccer] ODP helped a lot. My first year in ODP, I started out playing with Florida. I made the state team, then the Region team and then the National team,” Brian said. “For me, doing ODP was what got me recognized in the beginning, and I don’t think I may have gotten recognized this early without it.”
And if fans didn’t know Brian’s name before the Canada game, those who watched closely — including the American coaches — certainly know the talent and potential she possesses.
Before the game, Sermanni said Brian brings a quiet confidence to the field, along with a lovely first touch, good passing decisions and calm under pressure. All of those qualities transferred from practice to the game, as the midfielder displayed each attribute against Canada. Sermanni said Brian, the reigning MAC Hermann Trophy winner, showed “incredible class and quality” in her first start with the senior national team and looked like a “seasoned international player.”
Brian said she is enjoying the opportunity to play with some of the best players in the country. After all, it wasn’t long ago she was the young girl watching the U.S. Women’s National team compete on the world’s biggest stage.
“It’s a shock when you first get here because you’ve always looked up to them and watched them play while growing up,” Brian said. “Now, you’re actually playing with them on the same field. All the players have been very welcoming and it’s been a great experience.”
If she continues to develop and show the same composure she displayed against Canada, the 20-year-old will take many more walks to midfield with the starting 11 — holding the hand of a young girl who hopes to one day play alongside Morgan Brian.
Photo courtesy of Meg Linehan, Equalizer Soccer