The highlight of Morgan Weaver’s rookie season came in the biggest match of her professional career. The eighth-seeded Portland Thorns were matched up against the top-seeded North Carolina Courage in the quarterfinals of the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup.
In the 66th minute, Weaver received a lofted pass from teammate Meghan Klingenberg. The No. 2 pick of the 2020 NWSL College Draft took off toward the Courage defense. Weaver flew past Addisyn Merrick and a deft touch took her around Debinha. The Thorns circulated the ball around the midfield while Weaver continued her run into the 18-yard box.
Raquel Rodriguez skillfully created space on the end line and squared the ball across goal. Weaver reacted faster than Merrick and beat her to the ball, putting it into the back of the net and giving the Thorns an all-important go-ahead goal.
“Watching Rocky, I wanted to stay on the back shoulder, because you never know where that ball could go,” said Weaver. “It could either go in the air, it could go in front, it could go behind, and I just held my run and went in front of the defender and just poked it into the goal. I think it was just a relief.”
Weaver jubilantly jumped into the arms of Simone Charley with one fist in the air and a joyous smile on her face. She doesn’t remember clearly what happened in the lead-up to the goal. But she vividly recalls what took place when she was on the sidelines.
“I remember coming off the field,” said Weaver. “There’s like 10 minutes left. I’m just freaking out on the sideline, like ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to win, we’re going to win. Let’s go! Let’s go!’ Britt [Eckerstrom] made an amazing save and then all of a sudden there were like 30 seconds left. Bailey [Torrez] (former Thorns’ Athletic Trainer) was saying ‘There’s 30 seconds left.’ We were all freaking out on the sidelines. And then, finally, the whistle was blown.”
Portland pulled off the upset due to Weaver’s amazing goal and multiple Thorns players' heroic defensive performances. During the quarterfinal, Weaver tapped into the underdog mentality that she thrived off of at Washington State University and which helped the Cougars upset No. 3 Virginia in the 2019 NCAA College Cup on their way to the semifinal.
Although the quarterfinal was a day to remember for Weaver and the Thorns, the next match did not yield the result the team was hoping for. The Thorns were knocked out of the Challenge Cup in the semifinals by the eventual champions, the Houston Dash. Then came the Fall Series. Portland won the competition but Weaver struggled, playing only 84 minutes.
“I think after I had my small little injury in the Fall Series,” said Weaver. “I was just really down on myself about how I was playing, thinking, ‘oh, it’s just an injury, you’re fine, keep playing.’ But then I kind of made it worse. Obviously, you don’t want to sit out — you want to play. So I think that was a huge thing for me … my confidence level. And I’ve really gotten better.”
One of the players who has helped Weaver become more sure of herself at the professional level has been NWSL veteran Angela Salem.
“Angie [Salem] is a huge person [I can] talk to,” said Weaver. “She’s been very helpful for me. If I’m feeling down or anything [I can] bring it up to her and she’ll talk to me about it, which is really cool because she has a different point of view where she sees the [whole] field and [the forwards are] in front of everyone and [she] sees what we do. So that really helps and she’s been a huge person to help me through the game.”
Weaver has been working on becoming more confident on the pitch with the help of her teammates and the people around her and when Weaver sets her mind to something she usually accomplishes it. Weaver has always had a tremendous work ethic. Her hard-working nature stems from the elite mentality that was ingrained in her from a young age by her parents Michael and Jana.
“I think my parents had a huge part in this when I was younger,” said Weaver. “If you’re playing five minutes, you do the best you can in five minutes … I think for college, it was different because I was playing every single game and almost every single minute. Then, coming [to Portland], that’s not how it is. You have to earn your spot. You have to do certain things.”
Thorns’ coach Mark Parsons spoke about the characteristics that set Weaver apart from other players after the Thorns drafted her in 2020. Her mindset and drive are two of the characteristics that Coach Parsons loves about Weaver.
“In my second year I’m just trying to earn that spot and trying to just show people if I only get 20 minutes, I’m going to do the best I can for that 20 minutes,” said Weaver. “If I get 45, I’ll do the best I can for 45. Or the whole 90, I’ll do the best I can until the 90th minute or until that whistle blows or I’m out of the game. It’s going to be as hard as I can play.”
Weaver ended the 2020 Fall Series on an unfortunate note due to her injury but she was not going to let that affect her going forward. In fact, she used it as fuel to get herself ready for 2021. The disappointing end to the Fall Series inspired Weaver to stay in Portland during the offseason and focus on how she could improve heading into her second professional season. That, and not wanting to live with her parents, of course.
“I think for me, it was also not living with my parents. I love them to death,” said Weaver. “I also want to adventure on my own and do my own thing. And soccer is a huge thing for me. I don’t think last season was really who I was. I don’t think I played like Morgan Weaver should and so I stayed so I could perform better. I was [in Portland] since the last game against the Reign and that week I think I was there training. So I kind of have not stopped since.”
Weaver is determined to play ‘how Morgan Weaver should play’ this season. She has continued to improve her decision-making in tight areas and her ability to create shots and finish accurately.
“The offseason was a challenge because not everyone stayed,” said Weaver. “I really felt like I built [on-field] relationships with those people that were here in the offseason. Kelli Hubly was here the whole time. Sincy (Christine Sinclair) was here, Simone [Charley], [Madison] Po[garch], Christen [Westphal], Crystal [Dunn] and Becky [Sauerbrunn]. I think Simone and I started working really well together and we’re starting to understand when one runs, someone can check to the ball. I think we’re continuing to do a better job with that.”
She has also worked on adjusting to the pace of the professional game by working on the little details, on and off the field, that make all the difference against top opponents.
“It’s outside of training and being able to watch film and also watching the men’s side of the game and seeing what they have done,” said Weaver. “But honestly, just being able to see, like if Linds[ey Horan] is going to take her first touch, where is she taking it? Is she taking it forward? Is she taking it sideways? Or is she looking to play a big ball? ... I think all the forwards on our team have been good with what we can pay attention to and how we are going to be effective.”
Another key characteristic of Weaver’s game is her tactical understanding that allows her to analyze even the most minute details of the game and use them to gain an advantage over her opponent.
Forwards are often judged only by their goal contributions and Weaver demonstrated at Washington State that she will provide goals. But Weaver also does a lot of off-the-ball work to put her team in more optimal positions. She has been tactically astute since childhood, thanks to her father’s coaching.
“When I was younger, my dad really would try to hammer [the tactical side of the game] into my head,” said Weaver. “I think that did a lot for me because I’ll call him still to this day and we’ll talk soccer. And he’ll be like, ‘Well maybe, what if you tried it this way? Look back and rewatch it and think if you did it this way or that way,’ and I think that’s a huge help for me as well.”
Weaver continued to sharpen her knowledge of the game at Washington State under coach Todd Shulenberger and assistant coach Jon Harvey where she and her team were encouraged to press the opposition aggressively — another one of Weaver’s off-ball contributions.
“It’s actually kind of funny because, in college, school was always difficult for me,” said Weaver. “But my assistant coach Jon was always like ‘You know, if there was a soccer class or something, you’d have 100% and that class would be so easy for you.’ I was like, yeah, I wish! I like to try to ask questions … and just trying to break down film for myself.”
Weaver is a student of the game and her attention to detail and work ethic on the pitch and in the film room demonstrate the importance of the sport to her. Weaver loves soccer and knows that she can be determined, hard-working and focused but it’s important to have fun. In fact, she is a bit of a jokester. Whether she and Pogarch are treating Westphal as an elderly woman to celebrate Westphal’s 27th birthday or if she’s ‘Icing’ Sinclair after a match, Weaver is always down for a laugh.
“Why would you choose burpees?”— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) October 28, 2020
Listen to new roommates Christen Westphal and Morgan Weaver open up about their first season with the Thorns, new roommate jitters, Zoom workouts, and more!
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“You always have to be funny,” said Weaver. “If you’re not funny, how are you having a good time? I think it’s my parents' fault that I’m like this but I don’t know. I think I have to have fun and that’s how I do well in certain situations.”
Weaver has consistently excelled on the pitch. She is naturally gifted and is propelled by her commitment to her craft and her commitment to finding joy in the game and in her teammates.
Weaver’s hard work and improvement have been recognized by her teammate Sinclair, the top international goalscorer of all time and a player Weaver looks up to. Weaver identified, with the help of her coaches, how she could improve and she spent the entire offseason working on every facet of her game.
Weaver has grown as a player during her offseason in Portland and the Thorns will soon reap the benefits of all of her hard work. She is an electrifying talent that has the potential to set the league on fire, much like she did with her beloved Wazzu.
Morgan Weaver is sure to give defenders headaches all season long. She is determined and she will give her all to help the team in every moment of the match, wearing her infectious, fun-loving smile the whole time. Especially when she does what she does best — score goals.
The Portland Thorns kick off their 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup campaign on April 9th at 7:30 p.m. (Pacific) against Kansas City.