Morgan Brian didn’t let the summer of 2013 get to her head when she joined women’s soccer elite.
At the University of Virginia, Brian won the Hermann trophy twice (the women’s soccer equivalent of the Heisman), and led the Cavaliers an ACC championship and an NCAA finals appearance. Then Brian began receiving regular call ups from national team after her junior year.
After suiting up for the most decorated women’s soccer team in the world, she still would fly back to Charlottesville, Va. for collegiate games and practices.
Virginia associate head coach Ron Raab says Brian would compete and conduct herself as if nothing had changed. He said this humility was one of her most defining attributes.
“She’s very humble. She has this ability to motivate and inspire younger players to her come in and do that [play for both teams]. It’s rare and sets her apart,” Raab added.
Born in St. Simons Island, Ga., Brian struggled to breakthrough at an early age. She was nicknamed “Plankton” after the diminutive SpongeBob character. She was one the only players on her club team not to get a call up for the U.S youth squad.
Although Raab added that Brian was “Competitive as hell,” he said she was reliable with a good sense of humor that players and coaches enjoy being around. “She has a thirst to improve and she’s never satisfied,” Raab said.
But her skills that rose against stronger and older competition. Her play for the Ponte Vedra Storm, Frederica Academy and the U20 national team (with whom she won a world cup in 2012) impressed the Virginia Cavaliers. Though Brian stands an unimposing 5’7, Raab says it’s more of a testament to her influence on games.
“Athletically, technically she sees the game very well, but her biggest impact on the game itself is make other players better,” Raab said. “She’s capable of beating four players, but more importantly she raises the level of the game she’s in.”
Now an elite-level player, she has 55 National Team appearances and four goals. The Houston Dash selected her with the no. 1 pick in the 2015 NWSL draft.
Her accomplishments convinced former U.S head coach Tom Sermanni to give her a debut. Current coach Jill Ellis agreed and Brian continues to be a first-team regular. She was the youngest player on the 2015 World Cup team at 22. Not much has changed: in Rio, she’ll be the third-youngest player.
Brian is a center midfielder-- an exhausting and unglamourous position. She is a “box to box” style midfielder that has to balance the attack and defense.
Besides distributing the ball to the forwards, she’s the second wave of support in attack either on the break, build-up play or set pieces. But she’s also the first line of defense that challenges and intercepts opposing attackers, easily requiring the most running on the pitch (soccer players on average run 7-9 miles per game).
“What she does doesn’t show up in statistics or measured on a scoreboard,” Raab said. “That’s what coaches love the most.”
Brian, expected to anchor the midfield in Rio, will kick off USWNT’s quest for a fourth consecutive gold medal Wednesday Aug. 3 at 6:00 p.m ET. Stream here: http://stream.nbcolympics.com/womens-soccer-match-5?chrcontext=WTLV