PORTLAND — Alex Morgan hopes she’s emerging from her last injury layoff for a while.
Morgan has returned from a minor procedure on her right knee and expects to play in what will be the Portland Thorns’ final home game of the season. The game Sunday at Providence Park against the Washington Spirit is already a sellout with more than 21,000 fans expected.
It’s been a roller-coaster year for Morgan, with the high of winning the Women’s World Cup while fighting off another frustrating injury before the minor surgery.
She’s not sure if she’s 90-minutes fit yet, but she’s on her way.
“It’s not easy being injured and off such long periods of time, and so many inconsistencies for me in the last couple of years from being injured,” Morgan said. “Hopefully, my bad run is done and now I can start to look up and forward to the future, to the rest of the season here and to the Olympics next year.”
In the months before the World Cup, the speedy 26-year-old was sidelined by a bone bruise in her left knee. She had to work her way back slowly, playing as a sub in the team’s first two games in Canada.
Until her start against Nigeria for the final match of the World Cup’s group stage, she had not started in a game since the Thorns’ season opener April 11. The injury had kept her out of the national team’s three send-off matches in the United States.
Morgan was back in form for the U.S. team’s 5-2 victory over Japan in the World Cup final in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The injury was frustrating because it was her second in the past two years. Last season she missed nine games for the Thorns because of a left ankle sprain she sustained in national team training camp in October 2013. She reinjured the ankle last fall during a group-stage match in the CONCACAF Women’s Championship, which served as qualifying for the World Cup.
Then, almost immediately following the World Cup it was announced that Morgan had surgery procedure to remove a plica, or a small fold in the lining of the knee joint that was causing irritation.
She was unsure if she’d be able to play any of the remaining games with the Thorns.
“There was so much uncertainty so I set my expectations really low,” she said. “I feel really good getting back to the Thorns. And since my expectations were low, I’m in a better place now for it.”
Morgan entered as a sub in the U.S. national team’s 7-2 victory last week over Costa Rica, scoring the final goal of the match on a chest bump so show she hasn’t lost her ability to improvise. Morgan had missed the opening match of the team’s 10-game victory tour, which continues next month with a pair of exhibitions against Australia.
For now, however, she’s just interested in playing for the Thorns’ devoted fans. The sellout Sunday will be the team’s second of the season.
The Thorns have been a hit in soccer-crazy Portland, and have pushed the team’s average attendance higher than any other National Women’s Soccer League club at more than 15,000 per home game. Providence Park has been selected as the site of this season’s NWSL championship on Oct. 1.
The Thorns were eliminated from postseason contention on Thursday when FC Kansas City and the Washington Spirit played to scoreless tie, giving a point to the Spirit and eliminating Portland with two games remaining. The top four teams in the nine-team league make the postseason.
With the American, Canadian and Mexican soccer federations paying their players’ salaries, the NWSL is wrapping up its crucial third season. The league has benefited attendance and visibility-wise from the attention on this summer’s World Cup, and Commissioner Jeff Plush recently told The Associated Press that the NWSL is well-positioned for a fourth season.
The two previous attempts to build a women’s pro league in the United States collapsed before the fourth season.
But Morgan still believes improvements must be made to make the NWSL a world-class league. She caused a stir earlier this month when she went to Twitter to complain about the league’s hotel accommodations, specifically bed bugs and mold in one city. She was joined in the complaints by teammate Christine Sinclair, star forward for the Canadian national team.
The NWSL, for its part, promptly responded and issued a statement saying, in part: “Player safety and comfort is important to all teams of the NWSL, and we are always seeking ways to improve our club and league operations.”
Following a Thorns practice this week, Morgan suggested better accommodations, direct flights, access to training facilities and attracting foreign players as ways to improve the league — and ultimately raise the level of the game for everyone.
“There are a lot of things the league can improve on. I think they’ve done a great job establishing themselves,” she said. “But I think there are some things they can do better.”