Jordan Morris' future adds wrinkle to MLS SuperDraft
In one of the rare moments of calm during a chaotic afternoon, MLS commissioner Don Garber stepped away from the SuperDraft podium for a few minutes and discussed developments a continent away.
United States forward Jordan Morris spent his Thursday in training camp with Werder Bremen. Morris revealed to Bremen-based newspaper Kreiszeitung that he planned to return Germany with the club as he contemplated his options.
Morris’ absence from the proceedings in Baltimore highlighted the evolution of the SuperDraft -- the former Stanford star isn’t even in its purview after the development and the emergence of the Homegrown initiative over the past few years -- and sparked considerable debate about his future.
The next few days -- and the choice between a possible contract in the Bundesliga or a Homegrown deal with Seattle Sounders -- are important for MLS and U.S. Soccer. It is why Garber keeps careful track as the process unfolds.
“I’m following it very closely,” Garber said. “We very much want to sign Jordan. I know that the Sounders are very focused on it. He’s certainly had a great college career. And he started playing in Seattle. He’s got a family member that works for the team. We’re very hopeful that we’re able to bring him into the league and have him sort of represent this new generation of American players that have started and, in many cases -- like Landon [Donovan] -- finished their careers in MLS.”
In some ways, Morris embodies the revised template for MLS player development. He grew up following and watching the Sounders before they even joined the league. He played in the Sounders Academy, though he featured for another youth club, too. He spent the time necessary to maintain his links with the Sounders. He sprouted as a potential pro prospect and transitioned to the full U.S. national team in the process.
Those factors make Morris a rarity among his peers and a priority for MLS and for the Sounders. Morris has the richest Homegrown contract in league history waiting for him when and if he wants to sign it.
“He’s going to go through his process,” Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey told FOX Soccer after the proceedings concluded. “We’re going to respect it. He’s a smart kid. He’s going to get all of the information he can and he’s going to make a decision. I’ll keep standing up here and say that I think Seattle is a pretty nice place to live and MLS is a pretty good place to start your career.”
The last assertion is widely held within MLS circles (most U.S. fixtures -- including Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard -- spent formative years in the league) and often questioned outside them. The calculus in Morris’ case is even more complex.
Morris is in a rather unique position given his age (21) and his lack of professional experience. There are first-team minutes and significant demands awaiting him in Seattle, but there are more arduous challenges ahead in Germany. The starting point there -- from the constant fight for playing time through the greater tactical and technical demands when and if he takes the field in the Bundesliga -- thrusts him straight into the fire when he needs it the most. It is part of the reason why U.S. under-23 coach Andreas Herzog discussed Morris’ potential with his former club.
That decision -- and, more to the point, the comments Herzog made to Kicker and Kreiszeitung in recent weeks about the reasonable desire to have American players featuring at the highest levels -- rankled executives and technical staffers around the league and reinforced the inherent tension between the objectives of Herzog and U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann (building a better U.S. national team) and MLS (building a better league). Recent comments by Portland Timbers investor/operator Merritt Paulson about the rancor between Klinsmann and MLS investor/operators revealed the impact of those occasionally divergent priorities.
Herzog denied a specific quote about steering players overseas, highlighted the positives of Morris’ potential move to Seattle and reinforced the level playing field in an interview with FOX Soccer last week. Garber said he spoke to U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati about the matter recently and received assurances about the situation.
“It’s not really meddling,” Garber said. “Our federation has a responsibility to ensure that players who are part of their program understand what their opportunities are. Having spoken to Sunil -- I know Sunil has spoken to Jurgen and Andi and Andi corrected what he said was a misquote in the article in Germany -- none of the federation’s staff is encouraging players to sign overseas and not with Major League Soccer. I think Andi was very clear about that.”
Clarity remains at a premium as the chase continues. Morris remains firmly at the heart of it as he continues his time with Bremen and ponders his path. His decision is important for the direction of his career and important to people involved with MLS and U.S. Soccer.
It is why his future drew attention on a day when many of his peers joined MLS. And it is why the uncertainty lingers until he reveals his destination in the days and the weeks ahead.