Alex Morgan leaves Orlando Pride, joins France's Lyon on loan
Morgan will rejoin Orlando Pride after Lyon's season
With the lure of Champions League football proving too strong to resist, United States forward Alex Morgan is joining European champion Lyon in a move she hopes will help her become the world's best player.
Lyon announced on Tuesday that Morgan is arriving from Orlando Pride on a six-month deal, with an option for her to play a further season.
The 27-year-old Morgan wants to make the most of her career as she enters her peak years.
"I hope that this change will help push my game to another level," she said. "I want to be the best player in the United States . the best player in the world."
Morgan has made 120 appearances for the U.S. women's team and scored 73 goals, winning the Olympic gold medal in 2012 and the World Cup last year in Canada.
But she has never sampled European club football's intense rivalries, and this was a chance to good to miss, especially considering three-time European champion Lyon is among the best teams around.
"Training with these incredible athletes each day, and learning a unique style of play, is exactly what I need," Morgan said in a long letter on The Players Tribune website. "I will also be immersed in a soccer culture that I believe is precisely what I need at this point in my career. It has always been a dream of mine to 'live' soccer and to compete in the Champions League."
Lyon is in second place in the league this season, three points behind unbeaten Paris Saint-Germain. A 1-0 defeat to PSG on Saturday was Lyon's first league loss in more than two years.
Morgan will form what looks on paper like a devastating attacking partnership with France striker Eugenie Le Sommer, who has 16 goals in 12 games this season and 186 overall since joining Lyon in 2010.
Morgan explained further on The Players Tribune that she made the decision during "a belated honeymoon that I recently took with my husband, Servando, in Europe." After "a few weeks of deliberation" Morgan said the decision to join Lyon became evident.
"Lyon is a team that's world-renowned for excellence, with a roster that includes many of the greatest players in the world. In fact, Lyon won all three possible titles last season: Champions League, French League and the Coupe de France," she wrote. "They are committed to growing women's soccer and provide the women with first-class facilities and an unparalleled training environment on par with the men's team."
Long-serving Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas has overseen considerable success with both the men's and women's teams.
The men won seven straight French titles from 2002-2008 while the women have won the league 14 times.
"Alex Morgan's arrival demonstrates Lyon's will to invest in the highest level, starting with the women," Aulas wrote in a Tweet.
The women's squad has 26 players, all of them internationals, representing France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Japan, New Zealand and the U.S.
Morgan starts playing next month and will return to play for the Pride after Lyon's season ends in June.
"I'm committed to Orlando. Just as I'm committed 100 percent to the National Team," she said. "Those things won't change, but right now I need to follow my heart."
Morgan and other players from the U.S. national team are allocated to the National Women's Soccer League teams by the U.S. Soccer Federation, which pays their salaries. The players' labor contract expires Dec. 31, leaving either side in position to call for a work stoppage.
Alleging wage discrimination, Morgan and four other U.S. national team players filed a complaint in April with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the USSF.
Her move to club football in Europe will have a short-term effect on the Pride.
"We are obviously disappointed that Alex will miss the beginning of the Pride season but understand her wishes to play in Europe and we look forward to her rejoining her teammates after Lyon's season," said Phil Rawlins, president of Orlando City SC, the MLS club affiliated with the Pride.
"This in no way affects our plans or commitment to growing Orlando Pride and we will continue providing the team the best available players, training resources and staff to become a championship contender in the NWSL and a leader in women's professional soccer."
Morgan is used to playing at the highest level of the game.
At the 2012 Olympics in London, she scored a dramatic winner against Canada in the semifinals. A year earlier, she scored in the 2011 World Cup final, which the U.S. lost to Japan on penalty kicks.
A star in the NWSL, Morgan previously played for Western New York Flash and Portland Thorns. She was named U.S. female soccer athlete of the year in 2012.
Lyon's first league game following the winter break is away to Guingamp on Jan. 15, although she could make her debut in a French Cup game the week before at Evian.
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