Alex Morgan Lyon transfer shows ambition

Alex Morgan has left the National Women’s Soccer League; at least for the time being.

In late December, the United States Women’s National Team member announced her departure from Orlando Pride. The move is not a permanent one, but could be if things go well.

Morgan completed her move to French soccer club Olympique Lyonnais, or simply Lyon for those not in the know, over the weekend.

The move enables the striker to fulfil her ambition of playing in Europe. Something more US men and women soccer players should have.

Compared to the Orlando Pride, a team founded less than a year and a half ago, Lyon not only has history, but it is one of women’s soccer’s most prolific clubs.

Fourteen first division titles, three UEFA women’s Champions League trophies and eight domestic cups have been secured by the team.

Not only did Lyon win the French league a season ago, but the team is the reigning Champions League and French cup holders. Morgan’s move is not only smart, but it should be praised and reported on by US sports media.

She leaves an Orlando side that missed the playoffs and finished second from bottom in the NWSL’s 10 team league.

So, why does it feel like the US sports media is glancing over Morgan’s transfer? And why does it feel like Morgan’s move has to be justified to the soccer community in the US? Or at least, that is how feels.

It seems strange that Morgan would even write an explanation on the Players’ Tribune about why she chose to go to Lyon. But perhaps she felt she owed it to her fans.

While many American women’s soccer fans believe the USWNT is the very best and that the NWSL is the top-level of women’s soccer, they couldn’t be more wrong.

Last summer’s Olympics showed a US team that is slipping as the rest of the world catch up. The national team is in transition and it no longer has the best women’s players in the world at every position. At one time, that argument could have been made.

The domestic club soccer league in the US isn’t helping. While the league is growing, it can’t be ignored that the US is on its third women’s league in 16 years. The pay is low for many players and reports of players quitting to take better paying, non-soccer jobs are a reality.

Back in 2015, Esquire Magazine published an article about the NWSL’s average salary being below the US poverty line. Negative publicity about pay will not bring the best women’s players to the US. And the best US players shouldn’t stay at home to take the wages if they have opportunities elsewhere.

salary-graph

The salary is one reason the league doesn’t attract many European stars. England’s Women’s Super League is one of the best, up and coming leagues. And several NWSL players have gone back and forth between them.

The salaries are still low in England, but the league’s ability to draw fans and build the league has given it hope of becoming the dominate European women’s soccer league.

Germany, Sweden and France all have high-level women’s leagues. The draw of playing against other top players and competing in international club competitions makes them more desirable than the NWSL.

The effect this has on the USWNT is very apparent. Without the best in women’s soccer playing in the US, the domestic-based US players cannot improve. To be the best, you have to play and train against the best. Sadly, the NWSL isn’t attracting the best in the women’s game.

The league can only develop US players to a certain level until they play against the top players from the rest of the world. The same thing happens in the men’s game and is one reason the US Men’s National Team fails to be an elite World Cup challenger.

The USWNT is being catch by other women’s soccer programs, and it won’t be long until those countries completely surpass the US.

Morgan’s decision to play in France comes at the right time. She is 27 and in the prime of her career. While she was a certain to get into Orlando’s starting XI each week, she will have to compete for a spot in Lyon’s team.

Soccer in Europe is far different than the American soccer game. Cut-throat is a great way to describe it. And nothing is a certainty.

Many will fail to see why Morgan has moved abroad, but the simple fact is, she has moved to take her game to the next level. For the sake of US soccer, more players should follow in her steps.

In a few years’ time, Morgan could be hailed as the greatest US soccer export. Of course, time will tell if she is a success at Lyon or if she is helping Orlando push for the playoffs at the end of 2017.

Drew Farmer
I am a freelance journalist and author currently living in Manchester, England. Originally from the USA, I have written about sports and travel for years.I have written for Hopeless Football Romantic magazine, The Football Pink magazine, World Soccer Talk, Sports Collectors Daily, Forza Italian Football and many more. My debut book Soccer Travels was released in spring 2016, and details travelling to soccer matches around the globe. It can be purchased on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.