Morgan Houston-Shepherd is making a name for herself at Long Beach State

Long Beach State goalkeeper Morgan Houston-Shepherd started the 2021 season about as well as anyone could hope for. In her first collegiate action, the redshirt freshman was named Big West Defensive Player of the Week in both of the first two weeks of the season. Houston-Shepherd told BGN, “Being named Big West Defensive Player of the Week back to back was a shock. It caught me by surprise but also gave me a confidence boost. I was so excited and called my parents. It lets me know that my hard work is paying off and being recognized.”

She also knows how important the defense in front of her is to her individual success. “My back line plays a big part of my success and I couldn’t have done it without them,” Morgan said. “The first week I won we played CSUN I made one save but my defense worked so hard and I think that’s why it caught me by surprise. There is no I in team and the back line definitely has my back and I always have theirs. Even though it was my name as defensive player of the week I think it was the back line along with myself who won that award.”

While she found early success this season, Morgan’s college career did not have a fairytale beginning as she dealt with being redshirted for her first season back in 2019. “Redshirting at first was hard on me and took a huge toll on me mentally,” she recalled. “I had never not played between club soccer and playing for the WPSL since I was 15. I think not starting and redshirting was a huge reality check. When I look back now, I can say that the player I am now is not the player that I was my freshman year.”

“I learned that it is not just about talent but confidence plays a big role and shows both on and off the field. I did not have the confidence than that I do now. I believe redshirting motivated me to work even harder to earn that starting spot. On game days, I wanted to be a part of that on the field, although I was there for my team on the sidelines, nothing compares to the excitement you get while on the field.”

Morgan’s quality start to the season helped LBSU pick up some big results and get some votes nationally for the NCAA rankings. “I think this year the key to our early success is the bond we have formed in such a short period of time,” she said prior to the team’s draw vs. Washington on 9/11. “We all connected with each other extremely fast. I think that our bond shows not only off the field but also on the field.”

“We all want to see each other be successful and are willing to help one another with that success whether it is on or off the field. COVID was a big downer for our program. We were one of the schools that didn’t get a spring season and during that time we were all finding ways to stay mentally prepared, fit and ready to go come this season.”

Individually, Houston-Shepherd put the work in, too. “I think for me personally, I knew I wanted that starting spot and had to work extremely hard during COVID,” Morgan said. “I couldn’t have been as successful as I am this season if it wasn’t for my goalkeeper coach back home Sanaldo Carvalho. I think it is extremely exciting for Long Beach to be put on the map this season and to see our name next to some bigger schools, it is a great feeling.”

Different goalkeepers obviously bring different skillsets to their team. What makes Morgan special in goal? “I think my best trait as a goalkeeper is being able to react so quickly in a short amount of time,” she explained. “Reaction plays such a key role as a goalkeeper and I feel that over the years it just keeps getting better and when it comes to reacting to a ball whether it is in a game or at practice, I am able to trust my abilities.”

Another goalkeeper that was known for some highlight-reel reaction saves is former USWNT star Hope Solo, Morgan’s favorite goalkeeper growing up. “To this day, I still feel no other female goalkeepers compare to the talent she had,” Houston-Shepherd stated. “She was such an exciting individual to watch and she would always walk with such confidence because she knew how talented she was and I think that is so amazing.”

While other goalkeepers I’ve interviewed have mentioned the random places their minds go during lulls in the action, Houston-Shepherd has a different experience. “In a weird way I do not think too much outside of soccer when I am on the field,” she explained. “Sometimes I will look for my family in the crowd and keep looking until I find them but my mind does not wander too often. In club soccer I do remember humming songs and thinking about random things like, I wonder where my mom is going to take me to eat after the game.”

“When it comes to college athletics, things can change in a split second. I never know when my teammate is going to pass me the ball or when the other team is going to make a breakaway so I just always try to stay ready for what may potentially come my way.”

Playing for LBSU allows the Rancho Murrieta native to showcase her skills in her home state of California. Morgan explained, “Growing up in Rancho Murieta was fun. I originally started playing soccer for a little rec club there but the older I got the further things became because it was this gated neighborhood about 30 minutes away from everything. Getting to school was 35 minutes. Getting to practice was 30 minutes and so it began to be a little inconvenient.

“I loved it though because everyone in my family lived there, I grew up extremely family oriented and since everyone lived near me that is all I cared about.”

That closeness to her family is something that changed when she left for school. “I think me being so close to my family made it hard for me to come down to Long Beach,” Houston-Shepherd said. “My mom and my grandpa are my best friends so having to talk to them through FaceTime was a big adjustment that I don’t think I was 100% ready for when I first came down.”

“I do share a sense of pride representing my home state and I am just hoping to make a name for myself and inspire some people along the way.”

Tomorrow, Houston-Shepherd and her teammates will look to end a three-match winless run when they face UC San Diego at 6 PM PT (live on ESPN+).

Carson A Merk

Reporting live from Sin City, I have covered both RGVFC and Las Vegas Lights FC since their inceptions. I also write profiles to highlight players from the NCAA to USL to NWSL and everywhere in between.