Here is a first look at the cover of Saving the Team, the kickoff title in a middle-grade series by Alex Morgan, member of the 2012 U.S. Women’s Olympic gold medal-winning soccer team, who joins the National Women’s Soccer League’s Portland Thorns this spring. Due from Simon & Schuster in May, her novel launches The Kicks, a series about four soccer-playing girls that underscores the importance of believing in oneself and working as a team.

The proposal for the series arrived in the in-box of Kristin Ostby, editor at S&S Books for Young Readers, the day after Morgan scored the game-clinching goal in the August 6 semi-final faceoff against Canada. “Her presence was bigger than ever, and the pitch couldn’t have come at a better time,” Ostby says. “As a former soccer player and a real fan of the women’s national team, I was very excited to have this proposal cross my path. What really appeals to me about the series is that it embodies the idea that you can be a girl and be an athlete. For middle-school girls, sports are often as important as friends, school, and boys, and I very much liked the way Alex makes sports an important and integral part of her characters’ lives.”

As Bookshelf reported in August, Ostby signed Morgan for three novels in a deal brokered by Eric Simonoff at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment for world English and audio rights. Saving the Team has an announced first printing of 75,000 copies.

The author developed the idea for The Kicks with James Frey, founder of intellectual property company Full Fathom Five, whose soccer-playing daughter is a fan of Morgan. “I know that there are not many books or series, if any, that teach girls the importance of team sports at a young age,” Morgan says. “When I was first approached by James Frey about the idea, I was immediately interested.”

To write Saving the Team and devise the story arc for the series, Morgan drew on her own experiences as well as those of her friends. “It was easy for me to turn to my teammates for real-life experiences to help shape the story,” she says. “Everyone was open about her experiences as a girl and young teenager. We were all raised differently, and our outlook on life may differ greatly, but we all have one thing in common: our love for the game of soccer.”

Ostby believes that the newly revealed cover, designed by associate art director Krista Vossen, perfectly captures the gist of The Kicks. “It conveys the main characters’ athletic spirit, but a certain girliness as well, and shows that the two can go hand-in-hand,” Ostby says. “And Devon, the main character, looks quite a bit like Alex on the cover. She’s even wearing a pink headband, which is Alex’s trademark. In fact, wearing pink headbands on the soccer field has become a trend across the country, which is kind of neat to see.”

Morgan also believes the cover reflects the spirit of Saving the Team and its message, noting, “I love the cover because it encapsulates everything about the sport: teamwork, friendship, and happiness.”

She recognizes the significance of her role as a model for girls – as a soccer powerhouse and now an author. “The situation I am in right now is a unique one, and it is special knowing that so many young girls look up to my teammates and me,” she says. “I want to do whatever I can to help them succeed. There are so many athletes I looked up to while growing up, and that helped me to get to where I am today. It is now so important that I give back, that I encourage as many girls as I possibly can to believe in themselves, and to follow their dreams.”

The Kicks: Saving the Team by Alex Morgan. Simon & Schuster, $15.99 May ISBN 978-1-4424-8570-9