Sometimes Wambach's advice is simply for Morgan to trust her instincts. During one recent practice Morgan's teammates were screaming for her to pass and continued grumbling after she took an acutely angled shot that missed the far post by inches. Wambach sought Morgan out during the next water break. "You take that shot every damn time," Wambach told her. "Don't you ever let somebody tell you not to finish. That's what your strength is."
If Wambach is a pure punisher on the front line, Morgan is a sneaky predator with a voracious appetite for the goal. Morgan earned a political economy degree at Cal in 3½ years, and her soccer education has been on a similarly fast track. Blessed with speed, scoring instincts and a powerful, compact shot, the Diamond Bar, Calif., native netted the winning goal for the U.S. against North Korea in the final of the 2008 Under-20 World Cup in Chile (where local journalists fell in love with her looks and her game, dubbing her La Reina, the Queen). She was the top pick in this year's WPS draft, taken by the Western New York Flash, where she's playing alongside Marta, the five-time world player of the year, who is from Brazil.
"Marta is a little more similar to me than Abby, because she's a speedy forward who likes to find the gaps between defenders and make runs in behind, whereas Abby is more of a post-up forward," says Morgan, who likes to watch Spanish league games on her iPad in her spare time. "But you could also say Abby and I work better together because we complement each other better."
It was Wambach whose header found Morgan, a late-game substitute, in the final minutes of the U.S.'s scoreless World Cup playoff in Italy last November, giving the U.S. a vital 1--0 win in the first leg; the Yanks won the return game in Chicago a week later, 1--0, to clinch qualification. Morgan knew what to do on that goal, finishing with the clinical ruthlessness of one of her favorite players, Spanish striker David Villa. That ability to score in high-pressure situations helps explain why La Reina (who is dating Seattle Sounders midfielder Servando Carrasco) has begun following in Hamm's footsteps on Madison Avenue, landing endorsement deals with Nike and Coca-Cola.
And yet, for now at least, it hasn't earned her a spot in the U.S.'s starting lineup. Sundhage prefers the more experienced Amy Rodriguez, 24, next to Wambach, arguing that Rodriguez has a better understanding of the game's subtleties. "Both [Morgan and Rodriguez] have speed," says Sundhage, "but it's also about movement off the ball to make sure you're onside and have the right angle to give the ballcarrier enough time to play the ball." As a sub, the coach says, Morgan can turn and run at the goal every time she touches the ball. "But if you're in the starting lineup I can't tell you that," Sundhage adds. "That would be a bad message to the team."
"I'm not going to feel content with coming off the bench," says Morgan, "but at the same time I'm embracing the role I have—raising the energy and hopefully scoring goals when we need it."
The global landscape of women's soccer has undergone upheaval from 15 years ago, when the U.S., China and Norway dominated. Brazil has reached the final of the last three world championships (including the World Cup and the Olympics). Germany has become the world's most feared team, churning out top players such as captain Birgit Prinz, the alltime leading scorer in Women's World Cup history, with 14 goals. Meanwhile, China didn't even qualify for this year's 16-team field, and the U.S. has lost in the past year to Mexico, Sweden and England.
But the world will be facing a different U.S. team. When Sundhage, a Swede, took over in late 2007, she wanted the Americans to play with more skill than in the past, when they had won mostly with athleticism.
"What [Sundhage] has created is a different thought process about the game," says Wambach. "The U.S. has always been good at physicality, strength and fitness. If you can add the [skill] component to it, that's a really difficult combination to play against."
Will it be enough for the U.S. to add the long-awaited third star to the jersey in 2011? In Germany the home fans are expecting a third straight title. But with Wambach and Morgan leading the way, the Americans have the firepower to party like it's 1999.