Thursday, July 21, 2011

Waiting 5 Hours for 20 Minutes of Play: Alex Morgan and WNY Flash Pre-Game

Click on any photo to see a bigger version. Photos are my own: all rights reserved.
I would have preferred to do a post on Marta or Abby instead, but most of the cell-phone photos I got were extremely blurry. I think, though, most of you will be fine with an Alex post. By now you've probably heard of Alex Morgan, the young star whose brilliant World Cup Finals performance nearly won the Cup for the US Women's National Team. What you may not know is that she is not a regular starter for her club team, either. Christine Sinclair, who is having an amazing year and is the star of the Canadian Women's National Team, starts ahead of her. Alex got 20 minutes of playing time in the game. I tried to document all the waiting that goes on as athletes prepare for the precious few game-time moments. Here are some photos of Alex and her team.

Coaches try to convince their young stars that there's not much difference between starting and not starting. That's a lie. There are many small privileges that starters get that a substitute does not get. Alex may be better comparatively than any of the non-forwards on the team. But she's still not in this photo.

I somehow never got a very good photo of Marta (#10, on the right). She always seemed to be in motion or just out of camera view. I found it oddly symbolic, given her speed and elusiveness on the pitch.
Kaley Fountain (#17, left) would not play in this game. Like Alex Morgan, she's a 5'7" dark-haired substitute with a pink headband, who mainly gets in a substitute. But she will not see any playing time in this game. The life of a substitute player can be frustrating, holding the ball out to others while waiting for your own chance to get in.
McCall Zerboni is a skilled forward/midfielder, but she also seems to be the biggest clown on the team (her or Caroline Seger, who sat out the game). She's in the top-right corner of the photo, laughing it up with a staff member. Meanwhile, Goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris and Alex Morgan intensely wait for some last-minute instructions. Part of being an athlete is listening to your coach talk over and over and over again. Is it any wonder that athletes tune coaches out?
Notice "Hill" on bottom left. Interesting how many of us wear our own reminders that we were once athletes to games.
Players boot some balls into the stands as a gift to fans.
More Alex Morgan
I find it interesting how all the little spread-out groups start to knot together as it gets closer to gametime. Players that prefer being alone start massing together at the end and becoming a team before they go on the field.
After the game, Christine Sinclair was interviewed for her two-goal night. Alex eventually came on for Christine late in the game. Until Alex can score nearly a goal a game like Christine has done, she's likely to continue waiting. But it's obvious that Alex will not be waiting much longer, given her being the #1 draft pick in the league.
I apologize for the low quality, but that's Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan. One thing I like about the WPS is that it is a close-knit league. Players from opposing teams talk freely after the game.
Some security guards came up and talked to Alex Morgan while she was waiting. The added attention of being a well-known athlete is a double-edged sword. It exists for male athletes too. Not all female groupies are 22 and 24-36-24. But now Alex gets to experience what it's like being called the USA's World Cup Crush ...while still waiting to become a regular starter. I saw (but did not get a good photo of) a college guy who made his homemade "I love Alex Morgan" t-shirt. Of course, one wonders what Alex Morgan's boyfriend, a professional soccer player himself, thinks of all this. However, the occasional over-enthusiastic security guard and college guy (and blog post, admittedly) may be a welcome price to pay if it means consistent paychecks and respect for the league. I hope the WPS gets to struggle with this "problem" of fan enthusiasm and popularity in the near future.

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