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Alex Morgan is the star striker of the USWNT, scoring 50 goals for her country so far
The 25-year-old has twice modeled for Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Edition
Morgan is proud of the body she has worked for and hopes to inspire confidence in younger girls
She looks every inch a Bond girl, reclining in the Caribbean shallows, the breakwater washing over her bronzed body as she runs her fingers through her long, lustrous tawny locks.
Slim, toned with rock-hard abs, she has a physique that 007 himself would probably kill for.
“It’s important to accept your body for what God gave you,” the star of the U.S. women’s soccer team Alex Morgan tells CNN in a phone interview, as she talks about her career – and the importance of being comfortable in your own skin, whatever shape you are.
Football’s answer to Ursula Andress, the 25-year-old Morgan has posed for Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Edition. Twice.
The publication’s annual homage to scantily-clad women divides opinion, with critics arguing it serves only to objectify the female athletes who occasionally feature on its pages.
Away from the camera lens, the pacey striker’s achievements have propelled her to the summit of women’s football. Morgan has half a century of goals for her country and already has an Olympic gold medal in her back pocket.
Those years of grafting to build a career and sculpt a seemingly flawless form led to the Sports Illustrated photo shoots.
“I certainly don’t feel like I have the perfect body type … It’s through your own eyes,” says the California native. “And for every female, you’re going to see flaws in that, you’re going to see flaws regardless.
Read: The most powerful woman in world football?
“So for me it’s just important to have that confidence and self-esteem no matter what body type you have. I guess that’s why I did Sports Illustrated.”
Not that Morgan is a natural exhibitionist. Her willingness to disrobe is born of a confidence cultivated by sporting excellence and she readily admits to having hang ups about her body just like any other woman – “no matter if I have bigger legs than upper body,” as she puts it.
“The reason I’m given these opportunities is because of my talents on the field and I expect myself to continue to improve and show people exactly what I have to offer.”
She’s fully aware that her pictures might serve as titillation for an audience less concerned with her footballing prowess, but Morgan argues the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues are a powerful platform to get U.S. women’s football into the nation’s mindset.
“I think there’s a certain degree which guys like to buy the issue for themselves,” admits Morgan. “But, from my point of view, I’m doing this for myself. I’m doing this for the sport and for young girls to see the confidence that I am showing and that I am expressing.”
Morgan is all too aware that, for women, objectification is an everyday occurrence.
“Being objectified, for a female, is going to happen no matter if you’re posing for a magazine or walking down the street, that’s just going to happen in every female’s life,” she argues.
“What I wanted to do was to express my confidence and be proud of the hard work I put in on the field to have the body that I have.”
The write stuff
Engendering that confidence in younger women was also part of the motivation for “The Kicks” – a series of books authored by Morgan about a young girl’s experiences on a soccer team.
Released in 2013, the first novel “Saving the Team” debuted at No. 7 on the New York Times Bestsellers List for Children’s Middle Grade literature, while Amazon is said to have ordered a pilot for a small screen adaptation of the series.
“There’s not a lot of young, female athlete books out there, aimed just towards girls,” says Morgan, who once described herself as “never a great writer,” before adding: “For me, that’s why it was so successful.
“The commitment I had for soccer was just ridiculous. A ridiculous passion that no one shared with me. It’s really great to be able to talk to young girls now and have them feel so proud of what they’re doing and so confident from a simple book like ‘The Kicks.’”
However, Morgan’s debut at the Women’s World Cup four years ago didn’t quite have the happy ending the forward was after.
Japan were the U.S. team’s opponents in a nail-biting final in Frankfurt, Germany.
The match finished 2-2 after extra-time, with Morgan opening the scoring in the 69th minute, and went to a penalty shootout.
It was Japan who earned an emotional victory, just four months after the country had been devastated by a tsunami that killed over 15,000 people.
Ahead of this year’s tournament in Canada, Morgan is confident the Americans can go one step further this time around.
“The last World Cup was my first and it was heart-breaking,” she admits. “Losing to Japan on penalties, feeling like we were deserving and they were just as deserving.
“We had two World Cup championship teams fighting for one spot and that was really hard.
“We feel really confident. We have the potential to be the best team in the world and we have great players.”
Asked if the U.S. team will ultimately lift the trophy, Morgan’s response is succinct.
“Let’s talk in July.”
It’s often said that the harder you work the luckier you get, which brings us to the question of just why Morgan wears the No. 13 shirt for the USWNT?
“Me and my sister … we never really understood the unluckiness of the number 13,” laughs Morgan.
“We would go to hotels and we would go on vacations with our family and there was never a floor 13. We thought that was the strangest thing.
“We always told ourselves that when we got old and rich we would have a hotel called “The Lucky 13” and all of the floors would be 13a, 13b, 13c… It was something that we joked about, just the ridiculousness of people thinking a simple number was unlucky.”
And serendipity came knocking when Morgan started her club career and it was the only number available to her.
“So I thought ‘I’m going to take it!’ I’ve never seen any unluckiness in this number and it’s done great things for me.”