On Thursday, hours before Alex Morgan played for the Olympique Lyonnais’ game in the UEFA Champions League final, the U.S. soccer star took the time to reflect on her five-month tenure with the French team. In an Instagram post featuring a determined Morgan looking off into the future, she writes, “5 months ago, I decided to risk everything. Today we play in the #UWCL final.”
That sentiment was not necessarily new, but echoed earlier statements made by the U.S. women’s national team (USWNT) forward in December, when she announced that she would leave Orlando Pride team in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) for most of the 2017 season. She made that announcement in the Player’s Tribune, citing that it “was not an easy decision” to leave her husband, Servando, her family and the USWNT, especially at a critical time when teammates were making an extensive attempt to negotiate higher pay.
But Morgan went to France. And on Thursday, Lyon beat Paris Saint-Germain 7-6 in a shootout in the Champions League final to claim one of the most contested trophies in all of soccer, which sent thousands of news outlets and social media fans in a frenzy as many congratulated Morgan. Unfortunately, the 27-year-old was only able to play the first 17 minutes of the game due to a hamstring injury she had been nursing since early May, but winning meant that finally, ‘risking everything,’ had paid off.
Congratulations to Lyon and Morgan. But did the U.S. striker really, in her own words, ‘risk everything?’
Alex Morgan is still calling her move to Lyon a risk. The best club in the world courted her, and she went. It's probably time to stop this. pic.twitter.com/bxanUm1Yrd
— Seoul Train 🇰🇷🚂 (@BlasianSays) June 2, 2017
In fairness, a move is a move. A change is a change. A new team, is a new team and a risk. But the only risk that seems incredibly apparent right now is her ability to play back on her home soil.
Five months ago, in the same Player’s Tribune article, Lyon also shared her reasons for wanting to join Lyon for the short-term deal. In short, she writes, the club is world renowned, she would be around some of the greatest players in the world, and she would help elevate her game to the next level.
While these are certainly understandable reasons for seeking a new opportunity, it is impossible to overlook recent reports that leaked that Morgan has been paid $33,000 per month by Lyon. Compare that to what she was likely making for the Pride in the NWSL, where the highest salary of any player reported in 2016 was $39,700 per season. Combine this with her reasons above, and was it really risking everything to join the French team?
[More from Excelle Sports: REPORT: Olympique Lyonnais pays Alex Morgan $33k per month]
Now let’s go back to this point: Perhaps the only real risk Morgan took was damaging her chances of returning to play for the Pride, NWSL and USWNT. That’s largely due to the hamstring injury Morgan sustained in May with Lyon and had still trying to rehab right before Thursday’s Champions League final. She didn’t have to play, but did. And obviously, she wasn’t ready, when trainers took her out of the game at the 17′.
According to her contract, Morgan is expected to return to the Pride for the remainder of the NWSL season, but after aggrevating her hamstring again, she will likely need to rest for the next few weeks. That’s not only an unfortunate development for the Pride, but also for the USWNT, which will play two friendlies against Sweden and Norway on June 8 and June 11, respectively. USWNT head coach Jill Ellis has lots of attacking talent coming up through the youth system, and with her recent decision to keep midfielder Morgan Brian out of the games due to lingering injury, it wouldn’t be a far-fetched conjecture to assume she will do the same with Morgan as well.
What does this all mean? Certainly, no one can predict injuries, and while playing abroad for one of the best teams in the world doesn’t necessarily increase your injury risk more than playing on domestic soil for the Pride, it does likely increase the pressure to comeback when you may not be totally ready. So while the choice to ‘risk everything’ at home may not look too risky on paper—she got paid, she got international exposure, she elevated her play—in reality, the striker did risk something when you consider current circumstances.
So were those 17 minutes really worth it? Granted, she got to hoist one of the biggest trophies in all of European soccer after scoring 12 goals for the Lyon in 15 previous games, but what comes next for the soccer star? Can she recoup her U.S. season?
At the very least, her Lyon salary makes it a lot easier to afford the best sports medicine experts and any physical rehabilitation not provided by her various teams. And for any U.S. female soccer player, that is saying more than any pithy Instagram post can.