By CAITLIN MURRAY
Alex Morgan is back.
The star striker scored her first goals Thursday for the U.S. Women’s National Team after a seven-month long recovery from injury, salvaging a draw for the Americans against a potent France side, 2-2 in East Hartford, Conn.
Subbed in at halftime with the USWNT down by a goal, Morgan twice brought the USWNT level with two skillful individual efforts, the surest sign that Morgan is ready to reclaim her spot on a front line crowded with other in-form strikers like Sydney Leroux and Christen Press.
It didn’t take long for Morgan to regain her touch after her return five days ago, when the USWNT edged out France, 1-0. In that game, her first with the USWNT since November, Morgan had a couple shots stray just wide and one that headed into the stands.
But in the second match of the two-game series, her striking precision was as good as it had been before a sidelining stress fracture in her ankle.
Eleven minutes into the second half, Morgan collected a slip pass from fellow Portland Thorn Allie Long on a counter, took a few touches through traffic and fired from 25 yards out. The ball hit the inside of the far post and bounced back into the net, leaving goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi with no chance for a save.
Down 2-1 in the 85th minute, Morgan was at it at again. Off a quickly taken throw-in from another Portland Thorns teammate, Tobin Heath, Morgan collected along the left flank, dribbled toward net and cut into the middle for a shot that nutmegged Bouhaddi for a goal.
In her second match as Tom Sermanni’s successor, coach Jill Ellis again fielded the team in a 4-3-3 formation, with starters Press and Heather O’Reilly working the flanks and Leroux as the target forward. Morgan replaced O’Reilly and took the central role as Leroux moved out wide.
In the closing match of their two-game series against France, the USWNT looked much better than they had in the first, holding possession and finding several genuine scoring chances. Unfortunately for the Americans, France did the same.
Up until Morgan’s late equalizer, it appeared the USWNT might lose their first home match in a decade in front of 14,695 fans at Rentschler Field.
France’s Louisa Necib opened scoring in 28th minute on a penalty kick awarded when goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris charged out of net and missed the ball, tangling up Necib’s feet. Starting goalkeeper Hope Solo was out of the lineup for a personal obligation, U.S. Soccer said.
After losing their lead, Amandine Henry brought France ahead again in the 68th minute by capitalizing on mistakes by the Americans. A triple-teamed Heath was stripped of the ball and defender Ali Krieger cleared France’s approach to the feet of Amandine Henry, whose top-of-the-box shot took a deflection, making it an impossible save for Harris.
Both sides had their fair share of chances, with the U.S. out-shooting France, 11-8. The on-target shot breakdown was more in the Americans’ favor, 6-3.
Ellis clearly has the team focused on patient, possession-oriented play, which the Americans did much better than in Saturday’s match, even as they struggled at times to move the ball into threatening positions. But that style was balanced was quick counters and direct long balls at opportune moments, which proved unsuccessful Thursday.
Score line aside, the second match against FIFA’s No. 4 ranked team in the world – minus the sloppy weather of Saturday’s match – likely provided the test Ellis wanted as the No. 1 Americans look ahead to their World Cup qualifiers in October. The 2015 Women’s World Cup is 351 days away.