Jordan Morris' decision to not sign with Werder Bremen sparks debate

Jordan Morris' decision to not sign with Werder Bremen sparks debate

To some – a majority, perhaps – it's a mistake. To others, it's a sign of progress. And to a third constituency of undecided voters, it might just be neither.

The subject of their disagreement is Jordan Morris, the blazing-quick, 21-year-old U.S. national team forward, who is finally leaving Stanford to go pro. According to reports, he had offers from the Seattle Sounders, who control his Major League Soccer rights, and Werder Bremen, the Bundesliga club he had been practicing with the last week.

Werder announced Tuesday that it would not be signing the Seattleite.

"Following intense talks, the player made clear that he currently sees his future in America," the club's CEO Thomas Eichin said on its website. "Of course, we respect this decision. We're in a situation now where we need players who fully identify with Werder and the way things are done here, in order for them to focus properly on the task ahead. For this reason, we have ruled out a transfer for the time being, but we will remain in close contact with him and are still entertaining the idea of working together in the future."

It follows that Morris will sign with the Sounders soon. If his future, as stated, is in America, there is only one MLS team there that can sign him because of its "homegrown player" claim on him, even though he spent a solitary season in the Sounders academy. So barring some unforeseen move by an NASL club or some other team dealing for his rights, or an even more unlikely return to college soccer for a fourth season, Morris will be a Sounder.

This widely drawn conclusion has quickly produced the usual angst and aphorisms about the best American talent actually maturing and developing in America. For as far as MLS and its mechanisms for improving players have come, many still believe Europe is the better arena for improvement – quite possible including the U.S. men's national team head coach and his assistant, who have wavered on the subject.

Is it? The evidence is inconclusive. Try as we might, any pattern in the outcomes of career choices made by some arbitrary group of other players isn't terribly informative. And they're scarcely germane to another player's unique set of circumstances.

Would Landon Donovan have been a better player had he stayed with Bayer Leverkusen? (Getty Images)
Would Landon Donovan have been a better player had he stayed with Bayer Leverkusen? (Getty Images)

Forwards Landon Donovan and Taylor Twellman went to Germany early, as Morris might have, and didn't stick. They returned stateside and became big stars here. Would they have become as good, or better, had they stuck it out in Germany? Or indeed if they'd been in MLS all along? There's no telling.

Because plenty of other future national team stars of the MLS generation, who had the option of joining a fully formed league, did just as well traveling the opposite trajectory. Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Tim Howard established themselves in MLS before crossing the pond. They then joined solid clubs in respected leagues – in Howard's case, Manchester United – when they would perhaps have had to start smaller had they made for Europe right out of high school or college.

Perhaps that slog to the top, fighting a much tougher battle for playing time every day, would have been beneficial. Or maybe they would have been glued to the bench somewhere and watched their talent atrophy.

It's perhaps telling – or perhaps not – that South Americans are increasingly seeing MLS as a perfectly viable step in a longer career that will eventually lead to Europe. When Fredy Montero was 21, he picked the Sounders over Real Betis, Sevilla and several Mexican clubs, before eventually making his way over to Portugal and becoming the starting striker for local powerhouse Sporting Lisbon, where he has thrived the last 2½ seasons. His fellow Colombian Fabian Castillo made the same decision, opting for FC Dallas at 18. Five years on, he's primed for his own move to Europe and has been linked with Fiorentina and Swansea City. There are plenty of examples of MLS products reaching the Premier League.

The trouble here is that projecting the eventual outcome of all these players' alternative choices is a matter of conjecture. There's no saying whether Donovan would have been even better had he hung around Bayer Leverkusen long enough. Or if Montero would be starting for Real Madrid now, had he only signed for Betis.

The opportunities before Morris both seem like good ones; even though neither is guaranteed to deliver the playing time he needs above all. Werder is a Bundesliga team dedicated to developing young players and in desperate need of reinforcements up front, but a relegation-threatened one. If the team drops to 2. Bundesliga next season, would the American still be in a good situation? Probably. Maybe.

With the Sounders, he'd have to compete for playing time with two of the league's best strikers, Obafemi Martins and Dempsey, not to mention a third Designated Player up front in Nelson Valdez. But experienced head coach Sigi Schmid would doubtless find a role for him, and Martins and Dempsey are 31 and 32, respectively.

What it comes down to, in the end, is comfort. U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is big on players vacating their comfort zones and seeking out new challenges. He talks about it endlessly. But the trouble with that reasoning is also that players tend to perform better when they're well-settled. Morris likely went with whatever situation seemed the best in his estimation, and it's worth remembering that he is more knowledgeable on the subject of Jordan Morris than any other expert. This is true for both his career and his happiness, an oft-overlooked factor.

His signing with MLS would represent a coup for the league. One of the country's best young players would have picked it over a historic German club. It adds legitimacy.

Morris will be criticized for such a move, and perhaps he'll hear about it from Klinsmann. But we won't know if he made the right decision until a decade or so from now. In the meantime, there isn't much sense in arguing about it absent any useful protocols or consensus. Instead, all we can do is trust that Jordan Morris grasps better than anybody else the stakes and upshot of his own decision.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.