Alex Morgan, Crystal Dunn venture into the unknowns of World Cup motherhood

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Bedtime was nearing for Charlie Carrasco as Alex Morgan stepped to a podium halfway around the world. It was Tuesday afternoon for Morgan here at the Women’s World Cup, two days before a massive group stage game against the Netherlands. But for her 3-year-old daughter back in California, it was the end of yet another day with Mommy not around. Morgan’s phone flashed with notifications during a 15-minute news conference. When it concluded, before journalists could converge for a more intimate media session, Morgan asked for a brief moment of privacy.

“Charlie’s about to go to sleep, so I’m just gonna say goodnight to her,” Morgan informed us.

She escaped to a corner of the room, but 30 seconds later returned. “I might’ve missed her, I don’t know,” she said.

Such are the inconveniences of World Cup motherhood.

Back home in California, Morgan has settled into a soccer mom rhythm ever since giving birth to Charlie in 2020. But the World Cup, as she said last month, is “uncharted territory.” She flew to New Zealand on July 9; she and the U.S. women’s national team are planning to stay through Aug. 20. She decided that five-plus weeks would have been a bit too lengthy a disruption for a 3-year-old’s routine, so, when Morgan’s husband, parents and extended family jetted to Auckland, Charlie stayed behind with a nanny.

But her bags are packed. Her flight is scheduled. “She’s coming in a couple days,” Morgan said. And she’ll arrive in Auckland for an experience that Morgan, her fellow player-moms, and the U.S. Soccer Federation have spent kilowatts of brain power trying to optimize.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JULY 25: Alex Morgan #13 of the United States speaks during a press conference on July 25, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/USSF/Getty Images)

USWNT co-captain Alex Morgan answered questions at a Tuesday news conference. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/USSF/Getty Images)

At stateside training camps, players and their kids and caregivers stay in adjacent rooms at the team hotel. But at World Cups, they are separated. Players and U.S. Soccer staff are housed at a base camp hotel in downtown Auckland. Their friends and family are at a different hotel five blocks away, and largely don’t have access to the team hotel or the players, except at specified times.

For players with young kids, however, U.S. Soccer made an exception. Morgan said that Charlie will be allowed to “come into the hotel, and be able to go to the meals with me, or [be] in my room and relaxing with me. She’s allowed to come into our environment whenever she wants.”

Crystal Dunn’s son, Marcel, is already here in Auckland, and Dunn said last week that she was able to be with him “a couple of hours a day.” He, too, has access to the team hotel, and specifically to Dunn’s room — which Nike equipped with some toys and a “play set” for Marcel, Dunn said.

The players’ days, though, are already packed with meetings and training and all sorts of body maintenance. Add a kid to the World Cup equation, and “all of a sudden, you’re like, what free time? There’s no free time,” Dunn said.

So there are choices, mind-tearing choices. “You know, there might be some days where I gotta choose treatments over family,” Dunn explained. “I think that’s just the balance that I’m gonna have to find.

“Obviously,” she added, “this is my first time dealing with it. But I think it’s OK. As a mom, I’ve learned to just be like, ‘I need to take care of myself.’ And sometimes that means letting my child be in the hands of others.”

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JULY 25: Alex Morgan #13 and Crystal Dunn #19 of the United States warm up during USWNT Training at Bay City Park on July 25, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images for USSF).

Alex Morgan and Crystal Dunn must balance motherhood and training while competing at the 2023 World Cup. (Photo by Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images for USSF).

Charlie has been out of Morgan’s hands for over two weeks now. They FaceTime whenever possible, of course; and Charlie asks to see “Foxy,” her favorite USWNT auntie, Emily Fox. But she also asks when she’ll get to see Mommy in person. “Everyday,” Morgan said here Tuesday, “I miss her so much.”

Her arrival will bring joy, but will also come with its own unique challenges. “When she’s here, I know that I’m playing two roles, as mom and soccer player,” Morgan said. When asked whether it was more difficult to focus with Charlie here or 6,500 miles away, Morgan wasn’t sure. “It’s give and take,” Morgan said. “I don’t think there’s a straightforward answer to that.”

And then, after a few minutes of Charlie questions, she fielded one about Dutch center backs.

She spoke about matchups, about tactics, about dragging defenders and disorganizing an organized Dutch unit.

Then she was off to a separate TV interview, and Charlie, by this point, had surely been tucked into bed.