Updated October 21, 2022
Alex Morgan can hardly believe her good fortune.
“This is where me and my husband always said we wanted to settle down and have a family,” the U.S. women’s soccer star says of her new hometown, San Diego. “It was a long-term vision for us. I never thought I would be able to be here and play soccer.”
I spoke with Morgan on a cool, cloudy morning before practice with her new team, the expansion San Diego Wave Fútbol Club of the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL). The club trains at the Polo Fields in the shadow of the Rancho Santa Fe foothills. A light mist carries the smell of fresh-cut grass and nearby horse stables as we talk on the side of a perfectly manicured soccer pitch.
Morgan is a SoCal kid, born and raised in eastern Los Angeles County. “A lot of my memories are right here at the Polo Fields, for a Surf Cup or coming down with my family for soccer tournaments,” she says. “Then, getting to know [her husband] Servando in college, I got to visit San Diego a lot more. So it wasn't that far away from us, and now to be able to get to know the community on a personal level, it's so fun.”
Morgan’s husband Servando Carrasco is a San Diego/Tijuana native and a professional soccer player himself. They met as undergrads at Berkeley, then followed each other around the country and world throughout their careers. Late last year, Morgan engineered a trade from the Orlando Pride, her professional club of six years, to Wave FC. They've settled in coastal North County, where they're raising their 2-year-old daughter Charlie.
Morgan is a big star in the soccer universe. She played a major role for the U.S. national team in a FIFA World Cup Final at barely 21 years old, scoring a goal and notching an assist in an overtime loss to Japan. She won Olympic gold the following year, then helped lead the American women to consecutive World Cup trophies in 2015 and 2019.
Most recently, Morgan and her teammates scored a historic victory in a battle for equal pay. She was one of five U.S. women’s soccer players who filed a wage discrimination claim in 2016. The players contended that they had been systematically underpaid for years compared with the men’s national team. The women’s team has won four World Cup titles since 1991, while the American men have never won the World Cup, nor have come close to doing so in modern history.
It was the beginning of a long and contentious campaign that culminated in a landmark agreement splitting compensation equally between the men’s and women’s national teams, the first such deal in any sport worldwide. The U.S. soccer federation finalized separate contracts with the men’s and women’s players’ unions in September. The new agreements include identical pay structures for appearances and tournament victories, revenue sharing, and equitable distribution of World Cup prize money.
“It's a huge step forward for soccer and for women's sports,” Morgan says. “It's already made a huge impact in the last six years of challenging the norm, breaking down barriers, and helping other women athletes fight for their value as well. We saw the long-term effect of this fight, and we all committed to it. It is definitely an accomplishment to be able to stand here today and know that we have equal pay treatment with our male counterparts on the international stage.”
Crucial to that accomplishment were players with a significant platform leading the charge, athletes already making good money who gave up hundreds of hours of their lives to fight for an important principle with tangible results.
“I think you have to use your voice if you have the platform to do so,” Morgan says. “I am fortunate enough to be one of those people. Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, Crystal Dunn—all of these players, myself included, really tried to use our voice. We know that we're not going to be the ones who will benefit the most from this equal pay agreement moving forward. I only have a few years of soccer left. The ones who are going to reap the most benefits are the next generation.”
Morgan sees a lot of unrealized potential in San Diego and projects a bright future for her new—and ideally last— professional club. “I think there is something very untapped about San Diego,” she says. “Each person right now has a big part in how this team will be embedded in this city. The direction that this club and this crest will go, whether it's lateral, whether it's up—it's not going to go down.”
San Diego’s first top-division women’s soccer club has a heavyweight franchise core. Billionaire Ron Burkle, a part-time resident of a $30 million La Jolla Farms estate, is the team’s owner. Team president Jill Ellis won back-to-back FIFA World Cups as head coach of the U.S. women’s national team, and head coach Casey Stoney brings an extensive pedigree as a player and coach in English soccer.
With all that background and experience in the front office, Alex Morgan’s star power and goal scoring conferred instant credibility to the new franchise on the field. Morgan won the Golden Boot as the league’s top scorer with 15 goals, and Wave FC became the first NWSL expansion team to make the playoffs in its first season.
“We're setting up something amazing, bringing women's professional sports to the city of San Diego for the first time in many years,” Morgan says. “I think that's important because it increases accessibility for the next generation, for the girls. Not only playing soccer, but sports in general, here in the city and the greater area of San Diego, to look up to us and have that dream of wanting to be a professional athlete.”
It’s striking how down-to-earth an athlete of Morgan’s stature comes across. She is genuinely grateful for the opportunity here. “This is the first city since growing up in Diamond Bar where I feel at home,” she says. “It's where I see myself living indefinitely, raising my children and having a family here.”
Morgan says she’s “already in love” with San Diego, though she concedes she still has a lot to learn. “I intend to and want to,” she says about growing her knowledge about her new home base.
“I want people to also understand something amazing that we're building here,” Morgan says. “And that I'm very proud to help bring this women's team to San Diego. We're so proud to represent this city and we're here to stay for the long term. We can't wait to have a massive fan base, hopefully bring great success to this city and championships as well.”
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