Sports

Alex Morgan Signing Overseas is Troubling for NWSL

After orchestrating a move to the Orlando Pride, Morgan has signed with French side Lyon and will miss a huge chunk of the NWSL season.
December 20, 2016, 5:10pm
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

There are a number of ominous and significant subtexts to the news, announced Tuesday, that U.S. Women's national team star Alex Morgan has signed for a six-month loan with French club Olympique Lyonais.

There are the immediate effects, which aren't so much subtext as text. Morgan's loan deal could keep her in France until June, several months into the NWSL season. So the Orlando Pride will be without their signature star for much of their campaign, which is something of a blow to a league that moved mountains to get her to Orlando, where her husband Servando Carrasco plays for MLS' Orlando City. The NWSL expanded to that market at least in part to capitalize on Morgan's eagerness to play there. Now it's unclear whether she'll play there at all next season. Morgan sounded a warning that seemed to leave open the possibility of a longer stay in Lyon, telling Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl, "I considered signing a longer deal. I don't know if I necessarily feel comfortable signing something that's 18 months. I want to see where I am after the six months: As a player, as a person, whether I'm happy."

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It's a bit disconcerting that the league's work to get her to Orlando that wasn't enough to keep Morgan happy and fully committed to the NWSL. Instead, a French club that began a long-term campaign to woo her with some thirsty tweets from the owner has her for much of 2017.

There are other takeaways beyond those immediate ramifications. Morgan's decision to go comes as the national team faces significant uncertainty. The memorandum of understanding that's served as a collective bargaining agreement between the team and the national federation expires on December 31. There's been little reason for optimism, there, and Morgan, who had been part of the public face of player bargaining, told SI that the labor situation influenced her decision to leave.

It's an important note, because national team players also play in the NWSL under the same contract. For years now, both national team players and those hoping to be in the mix have cited that as a reason to play in the NWSL.

Now Morgan, who received national team coach Jill Ellis' blessing to play with Lyon, thinks other national team players may follow suit and look to play overseas. Every national team player that does so would not only further dilutes the talent of the NWSL, but limit the five-year-old league's ability to leverage the presence of national team members to continue growing its brand.

Morgan expressed the desire "to help the NWSL" in her conversation with Wahl, although she did add: "But I need to look at what makes me a better player and what helps elevate my game."

You can be certain it set off alarm bells all over the league that Morgan no longer views that work and playing in the NWSL as synonymous.