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Morgan Brian on college soccer, the Women's World Cup and turning pro

Morgan Brian just finished up another college season playing for the National Championship. For the second time the team came up short but the projected number one draft pick isn't letting the defeat get her down. Instead, she is looking ahead to the NWSL draft taking place in a few weeks and making the team for the Women's World Cup.

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes it takes becoming a professional for an athlete to get taste of what it is like to have kids looking up to them, but stick around after any UVA home game and you know Morgan Brian already has it. As little girls (and some older ones) line up in the north corner of the stadium to get player autographs Brian takes the time to sign whatever it is each person holds out to her and thanks them for coming to the game.

"It's pretty cool," says Brian about being a role model to young girls. "You see on Twitter or IG people leaving you notes about how much you inspire them. I think that is a really cool aspect of what we do as a profession. That is something I take pride in. It's awesome to see that little girl look up to everyone on the national team. It's really good because there are so many good role models; it's a good team to pick from. Even at Virginia we have girls who come to the games."

Brian grew up in St. Simons, GA where her first love wasn't soccer but basketball. However, soccer was the sport to play in town and Brian took to it - at least that what her parents tell her.

"I don't remember a lot of what I was like when I was little playing soccer. I just remember going out and running around" said Brian. "My parents have said I was always pretty good but I don't really remember that. I work extremely hard to make my game better and improve myself."

Winning started early on for Brian as she spent her youth playing for the Point Verde Storm. She won state championships with their U17 and U18 levels and was the runner-up for the National Championship with the U 17 team. Brian started playing for the National team at an early age and was a regular member of the U14 and U15 girls teams. She headed to New Zealand as part of the U17 World Cup.

College recruiting trips started her sophomore year when she spent spring break checking out six different schools with friends. She was considered the number one recruit by many. Brian decided she wanted to stick close to home and committed to Georgia, but that wasn't the path she was meant to take.

"The coach [at Georgia] resigned and I felt like it wasn't a great fit for me anymore. It was later in the recruiting process and it worked out the way it was supposed to," said Brian. "It worked out that I wasn't going to get to go home as much as I wanted...I decided to go to UVA. It has a great mix of academics and sports and everything that I wanted out of a college."

That mix saw her as a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy her freshman year.  The Trophy is award to the top male and female college soccer player each year and is considered the top award for college players. Brian went on to win the award as a junior and is up for it once again this year. But Brian isn't worried about whether or not she will win.

"I don't really think about awards and trying to repeat. For me it is just about playing soccer for fun. When people start to worry about that stuff that's when they feel pressure and worry all the time. So for me I just have fun with my friends, play soccer and whatever happens happens."

Worried about awards or not Brian has won plenty during her college career. Brian was named NSCAA 1st Team All-Southeast Region, First Team All-ACC, ACC Tournament MVP and Second Team Soccer America MVP, First Team VaSID All-State and Second Team Team of the Season as a sophomore. As a junior she was named NSCAA 1st Team All-Southeast Region, First Team All-ACC, ACC Tournament MVP as well as Second Team Soccer America MVP, Second Team Team of the Season, and First Team VaSID All-State.

Her time at UVA hasn't meant just playing soccer. The Kinesiology major has spent her college years balancing her studies and playing soccer on both the National and collegiate levels.

"It has been really tough. I didn't graduate and I am looking to go back next fall and to try and graduate but I have gotten all my hard classes done and out of the way. It's been tough managing it since I have taken some of my harder major classes while I have been traveling. It kind of limited me to taking two or three classes while I was gone because of taking those hard classes. But I have been doing it for a while now and I have gotten used to time management and playing soccer on the road. I think I have gotten pretty good at it. It's kind of weird sometimes being at Virginia for a semester and not traveling which is kind of nice too. It has been easier as time has gone on and I have gotten used to it" said Brian. "It is hard because when you go with the national team you kind of only want to focus on one thing and that's playing soccer to the best of your ability to stay in that environment. So when you are done playing you give everything you have at each training session and it leaves a little bit less for you to eventually be doing homework or school work when you get off that field. I think that is the most difficult part playing at the highest level soccer wise and being challenged mentally that way and having to come off the field and have to do homework and be mentally in tune to that as well."

Balancing college and soccer is soon to become a thing of the past as the NWSL draft is set to take place on January 16 and Brian is considered by many to be the top pick. Currently, the Houston Dash hold that number one draft pick and Brian could be the answer they have been looking for after finishing last in the standings last season. While many players may be nervous ahead of the draft due to the uncertainty of it all Brian is just excited to be able to play in the US.

"I think it is a cool thing to be a part of regardless of who picks who. It has always been a dream of mine since I was younger to play professionally" said Brian. "I think that is the positive thing to focus on. It's a dream come true especially to be able to play in the United States."

Leaving school and going pro will give Brian the ability to attend USWNT camp and continue to train for the Women's World Cup happening this summer.

"Since I am in the mix of trying to make the WWC, there are a lot of camps leading up to that and I couldn't do school and do all of the camps and make the team. That is something I have always worked for, so for me school is always there and I can go back. You can't always make a World Cup team or try to make one," said Brian.

Brian's technical skills and soccer brain will be a huge asset to whoever select her in the draft, but she has been too busy to worry about who that team will be.

"I finished the college season, went to Brazil and then had the holidays. I have kind of enjoyed that time. I haven't really talked to anybody" said Brian when asked if she had talked to any teams ahead of the draft.

With school finished Brian expects to have more free time on her hands but with a year that will include turning pro, training with the USWNT and hopefully playing in the Women's World Cup, Brian may want to wait awhile longer to get a hobby or two that doesn't involve school or soccer.