When the Tottenham forward Kit Graham slotted in a training-ground penalty against Alex Morgan’s team, suddenly “all the girls were laughing”, the USA Women star says with a grin. It took her a moment to realise that Graham had cheekily celebrated with her little finger stuck out as if sipping tea, in the same way Morgan did after scoring against England in their 2019 World Cup semi-final.
Such moments have brought some much-needed lightheartedness to the 31-year-old’s new life in London. With the spectre of Covid-19 hanging over the National Women’s Soccer League, Morgan had to make a fast and difficult decision to “pull my family apart from each other” and fly herself, her four-month-old daughter, Charlie, and her mother-in-law to England, away from her husband and fellow professional footballer, Servando Carrasco, in search of fitness and regular games.
On Sunday Tottenham travel to Manchester City in the Women’s Super League, following their 4-0 FA Cup quarter-final defeat by Arsenal. Morgan watched in the stands, wrapped in two coats and did not feature off the bench. At the Academy Stadium, she is likely to get her first taste of action, albeit not for 90 minutes. “I won’t be starting if I play,” she says. “We are taking it day by day. We are looking long-term at how I can get my fitness and feel 100%.”
In a window when the world transfer record was smashed by the arrival of Pernille Harder at Chelsea, it has been the move of Morgan, probably the most marketable female player, that has stolen the spotlight. Now the tough juggling act of motherhood and training as a professional footballer has come to the fore.
“The first week wasn’t very difficult,” she says of her return in south Florida after giving birth to Charlie in May. “Because I was able to choose my own hours. Then when I went to Orlando [to join her parent club, Orlando Pride, before she decided she needed more football than they could offer] it was still very short days, like three or four hours. The days here are much longer, like six or seven hours.
“So just juggling being away from her that much, leaving that responsibility with my mother-in-law and also figuring out not being able to nurse Charlie and having to pump [milk] between training and our meeting or training and our gym session … it’s been quite interesting.”
Few women have mixed motherhood with elite football, but Morgan is lucky her Orlando teammate Sydney Leroux can help. Leroux, who was photographed in pre-season training while six months pregnant, made her return to action three months after giving birth to her second child.
“Three months postpartum was just incredible. I’ve taken as much advice as I can from her – even how to pump on the way to training or what to do after training in terms of going back home and having to take care of kids rather than having to really take care of your recovery.
“You have to really play like supermom. The first week I felt like the days were running together and now this second week I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of it a little bit.”
Morgan thought she was getting the hang of things on the pitch, too, until she started training with the team. “My touch? I’m still waiting for it to come back,” she says, laughing. “I felt really sharp, really fit and really fast in individual training and then I get into team training and my touch is all over the place, I’m the slowest on the pitch, my quick-to-twitch muscles are nonexistent.
“In my second week of training it has got a lot better. My speed has increased a lot, still not to a point that I’m super happy with, so I just need to be really patient with myself. Overall I feel really good, just very sore.”
Morgan, who is a leading participant in the USA Women team’s equal pay dispute with US Soccer, recognises that her image is a powerful one and is keen to throw her support behind Landon Donovan, who led his team, San Diego Loyal, from the field this past week after the alleged homophobic abuse of a player.
“I respect them so much for deciding to not play the remainder of the game. I think that’s the right decision. And just looking up the video from Landon, speaking with the opposing coach, you see there is still so much progress we have to make both in and out of the sports culture.”