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She's Not Just a Right Back Anymore

It’s only been five months since Morgan Brian was the youngest member of the U.S. team that took second place at the FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand.

But a lot has happened during that time. She has turned from 15 to 16, the new cycle for the U.S. U-17s has begun, and as the only holdover from that last group, her role with the team has flip-flopped.

As a doe-eyed youngster on the 2008 U-17 Women’s World Cup Team, she was the baby of that group. The players certainly let her know it on a daily basis, in a kidding, big sister sort of way. Now Brian is a role model for the new cycle of players and will be counted on for leadership from the coaching staff. At 5-foot-6, with silky smooth skills, excellent speed and a tremendous work ethic, she is growing into her role in the middle of the field.

“I was playing right back during the last cycle, but as a center midfielder now, I can organize people in front of me and behind me,” said Brian, who played in one match in New Zealand, going the entire 90 minutes against Paraguay in group play. “I feel much more comfortable now so I can not only take care of myself, but take care of people around me as well.”

While the importance of a good right back cannot be underestimated, and while we certainly love right backs (see: Mitts, Hejduk, Fawcett, et. al), the center midfielder is the fulcrum of the team and it is a role that Brian is enjoying. It’s amazing the difference that a half a year can make in the development of a young player.

“I feel like I am a different player than last year,” said Brian. “My speed of play is better, I can combine more with people. Before, I didn’t always have a sense of what I was going to do with the ball before I got it. Now I am more comfortable on the field and I’m seeing the game better.”

“It’s great to have Morgan here in this mix as she is going to go from the baby on our last team to what we hope will be a player who makes a major impact on this team,” said U.S. U-17 WNT head coach Kaz Tambi. “I’ve had conversations with Morgan with reference to the experience she took away from the last World Cup and how important it will be for her to lend some of that knowledge to these new players. So far, she has done a great job of being a role model and a leader on the field.”

She is also fully aware that the level of play the U-17 team achieved in making the 2008 Women’s World Cup final is a long way off for this group, but that the journey of getting there is part of the fun.

“I joined the last U-17s sort of late in the cycle, but the soccer we were playing was really good,” said Brian. “We took one and two touch, and played a possession style. It’s different now, players take more touches and we have to learn to play quicker. It’s a long process.”

Despite her young age, Brian is also conscious of the importance of team chemistry. She struggled to integrate herself into the group last year and wants to make that transition easier for the youngsters this time around.

“I’m trying to be a role model off the field and trying to include everyone,” said Brian, who is a sophomore at Frederica Academy in St. Simons Island, Ga. “That was hard for me for the first time around, to get socially in tune, but it comes in time. We have to work at it just like we work on the field.”

Brian understands that process of coming together on the field will take time, so she’s focusing on the three Ps: being positive, patient and proactive. It’s a mark of maturity beyond her years that was apparent even as the rookie of the team in New Zealand.

“A girl came up to me yesterday after she had played a position she never played before,” said Brian, who has just a hint of a southern accent that reveals her Georgia upbringing. “She thanked me for helping her through the game and told me she appreciated me being positive and that it helped a lot. It’s tough to jump into this environment, it’s really competitive and stressful, especially for young girls, but being positive is going to help the kids in camp. The yelling will come later after they are confident.”

Brian has been playing with this group for the last year and a half, with the U.S. U-14 National Developmental Team and with the U.S. U-15s, so she is familiar with the players and the talent. She likes what she sees, but unlike any of her teammates, she knows first hand what awaits the USA should they qualify for the next U-17 Women’s World Cup in Trinidad & Tobago.

“The world is coming along quickly,” said Brian. “There are a lot of good teams that are better technically and tactically than us. They are just so good with the ball. We thought we were good technically, but the Japanese and the North Koreans were on another level.”

So as Brian embraces the challenge of leading this next group of U-17s, all born on or after January 1, 1993, she, better than any player in the pool, has an understanding of what it will take to reach the top of the podium in T & T.

“There is no way to experience this level other than to play those top teams, so hopefully we’ll get a bunch of good friendly games against the best countries over the next year,” said Brian. “We also need to watch more high level soccer, men’s and women’s. The last U-17 group moved the ball so fast every time they stepped on the field and we need to increase our speed of play, which means everyone has to have great skills. And every time we step on the field, we have to give it our best. You can’t take anything for granted for even a minute.”