The past 7 days have been stressful for fans of the Seattle Sounders. Checking the news, constantly hitting refresh on their computer keyboard, they have seen Jordan Morris’ future swing between the Seattle Sounders and Werder Bremen like a leaf in the wind. The talented forward joined the German club on trial earlier this month before taking in a practice match last week against FC Inter Baku, providing an assist for Claudio Pizarro in the process.
The start of the week saw news from Germany that Morris had been offered a professional contract by the club. With a move to the Bundesliga now seeming inevitable, he would experience the demands of European soccer - an alien world to the Stanford University program he had spent the last two years in.
Of course European soccer has not been a guaranteed path to success for American players. For each tale of Geoff Cameron or Tim Howard, there is Freddy Adu or Brek Shea. That hasn’t stopped Jurgen Klinsmann pushing talented Americans towards European football. Speaking to FourFourTwo last year, Morris described Klinsmann and his assistant coach Andi Herzog as ‘a great resource’ when it came to exploring his options in Europe.
Even tentative talk of moving across the Atlantic was likely to unsettle the Sounders. Morris is a native of Seattle, and his father currently serves as the team doctor. While not exclusively reared by the club, he did spend time with their academy.
The club had been overt in their pursuit of Morris. Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl reported that the Sounders had made Morris one of the most lucrative offers ever for an MLS Homegrown player. Despite being blessed with pedigreed attacking talent such as Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey, the club saw him as the future of the organisation. Consequently dialogue between Morris, Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid and Stanford coach Jeremy Gunn was consistent.
Speaking last year, Gunn said: “Each year we’ve talked a couple of times and they’ve [Seattle] talked about their future hopes for Jordan. Ultimately I’m not going to be strongly influenced by their decisions. We can be here to support Jordan with whatever advice he looks for.”
Now seemingly set for a stint in the Bundesliga, it was then that the tale took another turn. Bremen’s Chief Executive, Thomas Eichin, confirmed Morris would not be joining the German club: “Following intense talks, the player made clear that he currently sees his future in America,“ explained Eichin: "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.”
The news of his impending return to the US will no doubt have raised a smile on the face of MLS commissioner Don Garber. MLS is on the cusp of its 21st season knowing some of the old tropes are still present, most notably the notion it is a retirement home for once great players.
Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo, and Didier Drogba were seen as the face of Major League Soccer in 2015, perpetuating the idea that it is a pay-day for those near the end of their career. However, the numbers tell a different story. In 2015 there were 47 Designated Players, 20 of whom were new arrivals to Major League Soccer. With an average age of 27.6, the notion that it is exclusively home to those with miles on the clock simply isn’t true.
Furthermore, by August of last year MLS had 8 players under the age of 21 with 1,000 minutes in league play. By contrast in 2014-2015 the Premier League had 7 players reach the same number of minutes. La Liga and Serie A had 8 players, while the Bundesliga lead the way with 10 players hitting 1,000 minutes.
It’s for those reasons that Morris is seen as an important part of the league’s future, with Garber even admitting so during an interview at the SuperDraft last week. Already a senior international with the US, the interest from Bremen further validated his potential. With Seattle eager to earn their first MLS Cup, securing Morris is an important step in improving their chances. However, Schmid faces a tough task in terms of integrating Morris into the team.
The Sounders are somewhat top-heavy in attack having secured Paraguayan forward Nelson Valdez last year. Although press speculation has linked the former Bremen forward with a move to Colombia, he looks set to remain with the Sounders for now.
In reality, a 4-3-3 formation seems the best solution for Schmid’s team in 2016. Whether that sees Morris start or not remains to be seen.“He’s a very intelligent and well rounded soccer player who could play any number of positions,” Gunn said of Morris last year. “His pace and power on the ball is exceptional.”
In his final act with Stanford Morris shone during the College Cup final, netting twice in a 4-0 victory over Clemson University.
That coupled with his time at Bremen means many will expect him to hit the ground running. A lot of pressure for a young man to handle, he will be tested early and consistently both on and off the field.
Although speaking to Gunn, it doesn’t seem like the pressure will faze this young talent. “He’s a wonderful human being and that’s what attracts people to him,” he said. “Not only is he talented but if you spend five minutes with him you’re going to be his supporter rather than a detractor which you won’t say about every pro-athlete.”
Follow Kristan Heneage on Twitter: @KHeneage