The long-rumored trade of Alex Morgan to the Orlando Pride has been officially announced as Portland Thorns FC loses one of the biggest names in the women’s game. While the payoffs for this blockbuster deal only time can tell, here is a look at Morgan’s contributions over three seasons in the Rose City and where the Thorns may need to fill the gap.
Morgan has experienced varying levels of elation and frustration during her three years in Portland, having won the 2013 NWSL season, as well as scoring the goal to secure a 2014 postseason berth in a must-win game against Seattle. However, three seasons have been beset by injuries, including a lengthy layoff in 2014. 2015 was Morgan’s worst for minutes played as injuries, international duty and a post-World Cup surgery restricted Morgan to just 285 minutes in four appearances all season. All told, Morgan made 36 appearances out of a possible 66. That makes 5,940 minutes, of which Morgan played 2,945 minutes. With the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio coming next season, Morgan will likely face more international conflicts with the league season.
Morgan scored 15 goals and provided 11 assists in her Thorns career. Taking into account her minutes played, Morgan averaged a goal every 196.33 minutes or just over a goal every two games. However, in that same time period Allie Long has tallied 22 goals and 10 assists, missing just two games. Christine Sinclair has scored 17 goals, while Sinead Farrelly, Tobin Heath, Meleana Shim, Jodie Taylor, and McCall Zerboni all outscored Morgan last season. Morgan however, has always been a big game player. When the team was against the ropes, Morgan often came up with significant contributions in the clutch. Morgan supplied Sinclair for the second goal of a 2-0 win over the Western New York Flash in the 2013 title game and in a match the Thorns had to win to guarantee a playoff berth in 2014, Morgan scored a header for the lone goal to hand Seattle just its second loss of the season.
Morgan will provide the star power an expansion team can utilize to help drive early interest and ticket sales, especially in a brand new 25,500 seat stadium (with a natural grass field) Orlando City SC is set to open for the 2016 MLS season. Popularity for the women's game is higher than ever, but an expansion club still faces the difficult prospect of drawing crowds to a brand new team. Morgan will be the biggest contributor on that front for Orlando, even with the early acquisitions of Kaylyn Kyle and Sarah Hagen. The boost to road games will also be helpful to the club and the league in general, though it will be interesting to see how the numbers compare while the Women's National Team competes in Rio. Portland on the other hand has no problem drawing the highest numbers in the league for attendance. The Thorns have maintained high attendance numbers all three seasons, increasing year after year despite Morgan’s decreasing appearances and difficulty reaching the playoffs. Last season, the club even experienced its first-ever sellout crowd. The return of international players from the 2015 World Cup was certainly a large draw for the July 22 match against the Reign, with Morgan joined by nine other internationals, including Seattle’s Megan Rapinoe. On average in 2015, the Thorns averaged 15,639 in attendance, more than double the next closest club in the Houston Dash.
It’s exceptionally difficult to judge the loss that Morgan will be for Portland, both from a playing standpoint on the field and a marketing standpoint. Portland is rumored to use the expansion draft pick to acquire Meghan Klingenberg from Seattle, a young, world class defender that can contribute offensively. The club may be able to convince U.S. Women’s National Team forward Lindsey Horan to come to the NWSL and have already acquired the first two picks in the 2016 NWSL College Draft. Portland is gambling that these pick-ups will not only mitigate the loss of Morgan, but propel the Thorns back to the pinnacle of the NWSL.