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Alex Morgan’s return to Lyon for World Cup semifinals brings back memories

Morgan is back in Lyon for the first time since playing there for six months in 2017.

United States' Alex Morgan, left, competes for the ball against France's Elise Bussaglia during the Women's World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between France and the United States at the Parc des Princes, in Paris, Friday, June 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

LYON, France — Alex Morgan took an hour Sunday morning to walk around the city where she once lived and remember all she accomplished there. 

“This city is beautiful and one that I spent a lot of time in alone, by myself,” Morgan said. “So being able to explore this morning was a good emotional break from soccer and helped me remember some of the important times of how I progressed my game and was able to evolve as a player.”

Morgan is back in Lyon for the first time since playing there for six months in 2017. She spoke from a news conference held inside Parc Olympique Lyonnais, home to the team she helped guide to a Division 1 Féminine league championship, French Cup and UEFA Champions League title.

She will now also play a World Cup semifinal there Tuesday against England, and a World Cup final if the U.S. advances. 

“Just coming to this city made me so happy yesterday,” Morgan said. “And being at the stadium for first time in two years brings back such great memories. I’m really excited to see a full stadium for the game. It’s great to be back here.”

Morgan went to Lyon alone, without her husband, family or friends. She lived alone and was new to the team, so all she did was eat, breathe and sleep soccer. She credited that period for helping her game evolve.

“I was able to really dive in. Football was my one and only here,” she said. “We had a lot of games in a short period of time with the league, the French Cup and Champions League, so I was able to maximize those six months. I think that my evolution as a player grew a little bit here because I was able to focus on a different style of play and was also used in different ways as a 9 role and a winger.”

U.S. coach Jill Ellis said Morgan has a balance in her game, something that has served the team well throughout the World Cup. She can penetrate and score, like she did five times in the Thailand game, or play more of a hold-up game like she did against the more physical France and Spain sides.

“She’s just a dangerous threat,” Ellis said of her striker. 

Last time Morgan was in Lyon, it was all about her. This time, it’s about showcasing the women’s game to the world. In the two years since she’s left Lyon, Morgan not only has grown as a player — she is largely considered in the best form of her career and is tied with Megan Rapinoe and England’s Ellen White in the World Cup’s Golden Boot race — she has grown as a leader and is vocal in the USWNT’s fight for equality and fair pay. 

“This is the best platform we can give to inspire that next generation who want to play,” Morgan said of the World Cup. “There are a lot of women and girls who don’t have as much opportunity as maybe I did growing up and do now. To continue to fight for yourself and fight for the next generation is important. When I stand up for this team or for equality within the sport, you find that you’re not necessarily going to reap all the benefits, but your hope is that the next generation will.”

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