Alex Morgan talks about her long road back from injury

July 18, 2014 Thorns FC

Thoughts flooded into Alex Morgan’s mind while she was on a stretcher.

The Portland Thorns star striker was carried off the field after getting hit in the right ankle and crumbing to the turf last Sunday during the second half of the Portland Thorns’ 7-1 win against Kansas City.

Just a month after returning from an ankle injury and the longest soccer layoff of her career — another injury?

“That’s why it really scared me, it went numb and a little cold,” Morgan said. “I got hit on the inside of my foot — my good ankle. Little did I know that someone had hit a nerve at that time.”

False alarm.

The ankle was fine after being checked, and Morgan was full speed ahead during the team’s training session Monday morning. She came on as a substitute in the Thorns’ 1-1 draw at Chicago on Thursday and is expected to play Sunday afternoon when the Thorns host Boston.

Morgan, 25, had reason to be nervous. She has been playing a little more than a month after sitting out seven highly frustrating and mentally taxing months due to an agonizingly slow-healing left ankle injury. The injury forced Morgan to take a hard look at herself and her expectations. She learned some things about herself.

“It’s finding that balance and knowing that you have to set realistic expectations … because it did take seven months for me to come back from the injury,” Morgan said. “I have realistic goals and expectations for myself.”

The injury came while Morgan trained with the U.S. national team in October. The initial diagnosis — wrong, as it turned out — was a sprained ankle, and she continued to play until the pain worsened.

Doctors and specialists spent months trying to determine the cause of the pain. Numerous visits to various doctors, multiple MRIs, and constantly changing diagnoses and treatment recommendations left Morgan at the end of her patience.

She was told to use crutches. Then a walking boot. Back to crutches.

“I felt like there was never-ending bad news for me. Time after time, I received not so good news … it kind of hit me at the wrong times,” Morgan said. “Just the fact that we didn’t know what was wrong.”

Finally, Morgan learned that playing on the damaged ankle caused a stress reaction in her talus bone, located in the ankle area, and there was also a partially torn ligament.

Morgan thought she would back on the field in a month, two months, tops. She thought she would be ready to join the U.S. women’s national team for the Algarve Cup and the Thorns’ training camp in March.

“That’s why mentally it was so draining for me. I had a lot of negative thoughts go through my head,” Morgan said. “It was really hard, because I never had a full grasp of my injury time. I always thought I would be there and then I wasn’t.”

The injury was healing, but at a very slow pace.

What made the situation even tougher for Morgan was the U.S. struggled in the Algarve Cup, finishing in seventh place, its worst-ever finish at the tournament. Then the defending NWSL-champion Thorns struggled with inconsistency, causing Morgan plenty of heartache.

“I saw her day in and day out through the rehab, through the struggkes of just being an injured player when she’s not really used to that,” said Thorns midfielder Allie Long, one of Morgan’s closest friends. “I think it’s only made her mentally stronger as a player and as a person, having to deal with this adversity. It only makes her hungrier.”

All she could do was watch and provide moral support. Yet she need just as much support off the field as the players on the field.

Morgan received plenty of support from fiancé Servando Carrasco, a midfielder who plays for the Houston Dynamo. The two, who began dating when both were playing soccer at the University of California-Berkeley, were engaged in December and plan to wed sometime in the winter.

Morgan said recovering from the injury allowed her to spend more time with Carrasco, learning more about the life of a couple.

“Having him with me — actually me with him — and being able to spend a lot more time with him than I have been in the last four years was another positive in this injury,” Morgan said. “Being able to actually settle down and kind of live and … plan my schedule around his, rather than having our own separate schedules.”

Morgan played her first game with the Thorns this season in their 5-0 home loss to Western New York on June 7, playing 90 minutes. Morgan has played in eight games, scoring three goals to go with two assists. She also scored two goals in the national team’s 2-2 draw against France last month.

“I don’t think she’s at 100 percent game shape,” Thorns coach Paul Riley said. “She’ll agree in one sense, the sharpness sense, but probably not agree in the fitness sense.”

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