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A superstar in the making, Morgan shines during US' win over France


GLASGOW, Scotland -- The rain has stopped and the Tube hasn't come to an utter standstill. But at least one prediction for the London Olympics appears to be coming true.

In the run-up to these games, U.S. soccer player Alex Morgan was positioned as a face to watch. And on Wednesday, two full days before the 2012 Games even officially begin, Morgan became a breakout star.

Making her Olympic debut, Morgan scored two goals in the Americans' dramatic 4-2 comeback win over talented France. And she's ready to take her place as the next big American star.

When such a thing was suggested to her, 23-year old Morgan -- who wears a pink headband and has the husky voice of a precocious 7-year old -- smiled in embarrassment or perhaps denial.

"All that is in my mind right now is the Olympics," Morgan said. "Anything that comes from that afterward, I'll deal with then. I'm just trying to enjoy the moment. Like Pia says live in the moment.

"And hopefully grow the sport for the U.S. "

To keep growing the sport in the U.S., transcendent stars are required. And Morgan is on the verge of becoming one -- a young player who has an uncanny ability to score goals. Morgan burst on the scene at last summer's World Cup, just months removed from her senior season at Cal, as a bench player who could finish. Now she's an indispensible part of the starting lineup.

The combination of Morgan's speed and grace with the power and precision of Abby Wambach has given the U.S. team its most lethal attack since the days when Mia Hamm & Co. dominated a less competitive global field.

Finishing is the key to soccer stardom. Just ask Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or Marta. It's like dunking a basketball or throwing a touchdown pass. It's the sexy part of the sport.

And Morgan is scoring at an astonishing rate: Wednesday's goals were her 18th and 19th this year in only 16 games played.

Add in the fact that Morgan is attractive to both the young soccer girl segment of the audience -- pink headbands have replaced the ubiquitous pre-wrap as the headwear of choice in girls' soccer -- and the male segment of the audience -- she was a big hit wearing only body paint in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue -- and her marketability is obvious.

She gives hope to young players who would like to have full and normal lives. Morgan, who grew up in Diamond Bar, Calif., didn't play competitive club soccer until she was 14, ancient by youth soccer standards. She played other sports -- volleyball and track -- in high school. She wasn't highly recruited but ended up being a star at Cal.

She's also a cool, calm customer. She showed that trait in one of her first games with the national team, scoring the winning goal in stoppage time against Italy in a game the U.S. desperately needed to qualify for the 2011 World Cup. She was unruffled by the World Cup stage in Germany last summer. And her calm has carried over to the Olympics.

"Going out on the field right before the whistle blew there were some nerves," she said. "We addressed it in the locker room before the game: if you have nerves, it means you're human. I was just really excited. Once I stepped on the field and the whistle blew I was considered an Olympian. It was an amazing moment for me.

"And then we were hit with two goals."

The U.S. was hit quickly and hard. France was aggressive and within a two-minute span, with just 14 minutes gone in the game, the U.S. was down 2-0. But this team's trademark is its ability to come back -- in part, because it knows it has the firepower to do so.

"Me and Abby looked at each other and said, 'All right, a goal each,'" Morgan said.

And that's what they delivered. Wambach scored first -- heading in a corner kick from Megan Rapinoe. Then goalkeeper Hope Solo sailed a ball 60 yards downfield toward Wambach's head. Wambach leapt but didn't connect, keeping Morgan onsides and Morgan buried the ball in the net to even the score.

In the second half, Carli Lloyd, who has a knack for scoring huge Olympic goals -- she scored the extra time goal in the gold medal game in Beijing -- put the U.S. ahead for good. In the 66th minute, Morgan scored again after Tobin Heath made a brilliant run up the flank and crossed the ball through the French defense to Morgan, who flicked it in.

The opposition, long focused on containing Wambach, now must worry about Morgan. France tried to get physical with her, knocking her to the ground three different times. Morgan was surprised not to get a whistle.

"I think at least one of those were a PK -- I'm pretty sure anyone on the team could tell you," she said. "That's the way the game goes."

In the past twelve months, Morgan's trajectory has skyrocketed. But with the Women's Professional League shut down, will she have a platform for her new found stardom after the Olympics?