Morgan Brian doesn’t want the party to end.
But at the same time, she knows there’s another task ahead.
After a busy, memorable 2015 that saw Morgan and the U.S. Women’s National team claim the World Cup for the first time since 1999, the team concludes its 10-city Victory Tour on Wednesday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against China with the knowledge that preparing for an equally challenging 2016 begins in just three weeks.
And not only does the match against China mark the end of competition in 2015 for the team, it’s also the retirement match for all-time international scoring leader Abby Wambach.
So what better city than New Orleans for one last bacchanalian revel (which Wambach has promised will last for hours after the match) before a Lenten-like cleansing over Christmas before the team reassembles Jan. 5 to began preparation for the Olympic qualifying tournament?
“We never want this to end,” Brian, a midfielder, said of the current tour before Tuesday’s open practice. “Obviously we wanted to celebrate winning the World Cup because it had been 16 years.
“So we’ve been enjoying it, even though it’s been a lot of games in a short amount of time and a lot of traveling. But we really enjoy playing soccer, especially in front of our fans.”
Those fans include Rachel Adams of Orlando, Florida, who, with her sister, will be witnessing her third match of the tour following ones in her hometown plus Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“To be here and to get to watch Abby is pretty spectacular,” Adams said during the practice session. “This is a great moment for U.S. soccer, and it’s a great moment for women’s sports.
“And then to be able to support the team that makes our country proud is pretty exciting. It’s going to be energetic and exciting in here because everybody’s wanting to celebrate.”
An anticipated crowd of more than 30,000 will undoubtedly include many young World Cup and Olympic hopefuls for the next decade and beyond.
Several were there for the practice Tuesday, including 12-year-old Brenna Stewart of Covington.
“I’m really excited,” Stewart said. “They’re all so good.
“I just want to get all of their autographs.”
International soccer events are rare in New Orleans.
This is the first appearance by the U.S. women’s team since 1993, and that match against Brazil was held at Tad Gormley Stadium.
And while Lauren Holiday, wife of the Pelicans’ Jrue Holiday was a member of the National Team until she retired from playing in October, there is no special significance attached to the tour ending in New Orleans, including it being Wambach’s final match, which was announced after the tour dates were.
This nationally televised (Fox Sports 1) one is in the Superdome, a first in the facility’s 40-year history.
For the event, the embedded yard markers on the turf football field have been painted over, along with the end zones and midfield logos.
And while the actual surface area of the turf is the same as it is for football games, removing the goalposts and replacing them with soccer goals and the wider field makes it look much larger, especially with the advertising sideboards circling the stadium’s lowest ring of seats.
“It’s certainly different,” Superdome General Manager Alan Freeman said. “But it’s going to look like a soccer field and not a painted over football one to the fans and on TV.”
Freeman added that the success of Wednesday’s match could lead to more Olympic sports events in the Dome and the Smoothie King Center.
As it is, this will be the largest attendance for a women’s sporting event in Louisiana history.
What fans in attendance on Wednesday are likely to see is another night of domination by the American women.
In the eight previous matches on the tour (one in Honolulu on Dec. 5 was canceled because of poor field conditions at Aloha Stadium), the U.S. has prevailed by a combined 40-2, although China made it close, 2-0, in Sunday’s match in Glendale, Arizona.
“We approach these matches as fun,” Brian said. “But we don’t aim to lose, either.
“Even when we’re playing our best anyway, we approach it like that. And then we’re gearing up for the qualifying, too.”
For the National Team members, the upcoming Christmas break is one of the few of the year as they mix both training, international play and their own professional league participation.
“We don’t have much of an offseason,” said Brian, who plays with Houston Dash of the National Women’s Soccer League. “But I’m doing what I love.
“This was my first go-around with the World Cup. And if I make the Olympic team, that will be a new experience for me too. It’s been a heck of a year, and I want it to be the same thing next year.”
Which, with an American victory, would mean another Victory Tour.
And just maybe a return to the Superdome.