A chance encounter with one of soccer’s biggest stars

07/23/2014 12:00 PM |
Shoreham-Wading River sophomore Alex Kuhnle recently met soccer star Alex Morgan. (Credit: Bill Landon)

Shoreham-Wading River sophomore Alex Kuhnle recently met soccer star Alex Morgan. (Credit: Bill Landon)

In her travels across the country playing soccer, Alex Kuhnle had met big-time stars before. Mostly, though, the encounters were brief and in a group.

As a freshman at Shoreham-Wading River last year, Kuhnle made a big impact on varsity as a striker. A quick, skilled player, Kuhnle has already generated interest from Division I schools like UCLA and the University of Miami, Shoreham coach Adrian Gilmore said. It’s been a busy summer for Kuhnle, which has featured soccer tournaments throughout the country.

One stop landed her in Portland, where she met her biggest idol: U.S. soccer star Alex Morgan. One of Kuhnle’s coaches also happens to work with the Portland Thorns FC, a professional women’s soccer team. Whenever his high school players are around the professional teams, they’re welcome to watch and meet the players, Kuhnle said.

It just so happened that at the time Kuhnle crossed paths with Morgan, the 25-year-old Olympic gold medalist, she was the only kid around.

“She was just really nice,” Kuhnle said. “I didn’t expect her to be that friendly. She really engaged in the conversation.”

Morgan, who at 22 was the youngest player on the 2011 U.S. World Cup team, offered Kuhnle advice on her upcoming college recruitment.

“She said, just wait it out, because a lot of coaches pressure you into schools,” Kuhnle said after Shoreham’s 0-0 draw against Eastport-South Manor Tuesday night in the Town of Brookhaven Summer League. “She said she wished she waited longer.”

Morgan played for the University of California, Berkeley, from 2007-10, leading her team to the NCAA Tournament each year. Morgan had a memorable run in the 2012 London Olympics, scoring the winning goal in the unforgettable semifinal win over Canada in the 123rd minute.

For Kuhnle, meeting Morgan was like a young basketball player meeting LeBron James.

“It’s surreal,” Gilmore said.

“For the past four years, she’s been my idol,” Kuhnle added. “Every game I’ve been able to watch her play and it was really cool.”

The only downside of the meeting: With no one else around, Kuhnle felt awkward asking for a picture. So no selfie.

Tuesday was the first time Kuhnle was available to play with her high school teammates in the summer league. The Wildcats, while playing without a full roster in most games as is typical in summer league, have put together a promising run that has them eyeing big things in the fall.

The Wildcats finished the regular season atop the 10-team small school division with an unbeaten record. The Wildcats went 6-0-3 and will open the playoffs next week as the No. 1 seed.

“We have 13 [players] coming back and I’m very confident in the 11 starters that we’re going to have a great season,” Gilmore said.

Kuhnle will play a big part of the offense come the fall season. In Tuesday’s game, she showed glimpses of what’s to come with several nifty plays. She had several scoring chances in the first half, working the left side of the field. In the first overtime period, she lofted a beautiful cross into the box but no one was there to connect on the other end.

The Wildcats controlled possession throughout against the Sharks and never gave up any serious scoring chances. Goalkeeper Lauren Marigliano was rarely tested by Eastport.

One of the biggest question marks for Shoreham entering the fall season will be in goal. The Wildcats graduated their all-state keeper, Kelly Wynkoop, who had been a four-year starter. Marigliano, a junior, will enter the season in competition with freshman Lydia Kessel.

“They both played winter with us,” Gilmore said, “so we’re just kind of trying to figure out who will win that starting spot.”

joew@timesreview.com