Jordan Morris surprised many when he made the decision to stay in college another year rather than turn pro after making his U.S. national team debut a year ago, but on Sunday he helped Stanford University win its first national championship. It was his stated goal, and now that he has accomplished that mission there is really no reason to delay a professional career that has been highly anticipated ever since Jurgen Klinsmann handed him his first call-up.
Morris' performance in the NCAA tournament provided a clear reminder of just how much better he is than the talent on the college level, which isn't really a surprise to anyone who has seen him make an impact on the international stage. He has been ready for the pros for some time, and while you could understand him returning to school for another year to chase a championship, he should put his name on a pro contract this winter.
Why wouldn't he? Well, for starters, Morris has made no secret about how much he loves being in college, and a Stanford degree has significant value. While that is the case, if he is serious about his soccer career, then it's time to pass up the text books and college life to jump to the next level, where he should be able to make an immediate impact.
The Seattle Sounders have already tabled a sizable contract offer for Morris, with some reports putting the deal in the $250,000-$300,000 range, which would make him not only he highest-paid homegrown player in MLS history, but the highest-paid rookie. There are also rumblings of interest from Europe, with ESPN TV analyst Taylor Twellman reporting on a recent broadcast that Morris had received an offer from a Bundesliga club. This shouldn't come as a surprise given the fact he wouldn't require a transfer fee and has impressed in matches against the likes of Germany and the Netherlands.
Whether he goes to MLS or abroad, Morris needs to move on from the college game, where he simply won't be tested the way he can be tested in the pros. If he signs with the Sounders, he would be a good bet to see considerable playing time. Yes, the Sounders have Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey, but they are 31 and 32 respectively, and there's no reason Morris couldn't play in the same lineup with that dynamic duo, either in a wide midfield role or as a forward with Dempsey tucked underneath.
Morris has game-breaking speed and has gained considerable confidence in the year since breaking onto the international scene. Staying in college would mean being limited to national team and U.S. Under-23 matches until the fall, then another season playing in college, where he is already far ahead of the field.
It really all boils down to what matters to Morris. If he feels the life experience of another year in college coupled with securing a prestigious Stanford degree is more important than advancing his soccer career, then he should stay in school. But if he's serious about maximizing his soccer career, then now is the right time to leave school and realize his considerable potential. He can always finish up his degree after he leaves to turn pro, but he will never be able to recover the year of prime development he would give up by returning to college for his senior season.
WHERE WILL TIMBERS TRADE WILL JOHNSON?
As Portland Timbers players gathered on the stage at their post-MLS Cup victory party in Columbus, Ohio, Will Johnson passed on the chance to join his teammates. He stood to the side, taking it all in, perhaps already trying to prepare himself from a team he knew he would be leaving.
Of course, Johnson did take the stage in Portland two days later, even leading Timbers fans in one particularly popular chant involving the city of Seattle, but even that moment wouldn't change the inevitable fact that Johnson's days with the Timbers are up.
Johnson acknowledged as much after Portland's MLS Cup victory against the Crew, perhaps fully aware of the fact that coach Caleb Porter had found a new midfield triangle that had no room for him.
So where will the Canadian international go next? Sources tell Goal USA that the Chicago Fire and Toronto FC have emerged as frontrunners for his services. Both teams have allocation money and draft picks to spend on a player in Johnson, who would help address immediate needs for both teams.
In Chicago, Johnson could provide sorely needed toughness and leadership for a FIre team widely regarded as soft in 2015. New Fire coach Veljko Paunovic could do far worse than build his midfield around a two-time MLS Cup champion who can still be a box-to-box presence. It is easily forgotten that Johnson's professional career began with the Fire a decade ago, and bringing him back would offer a feel-good story of a local product coming home to try and help his original team win a title.
Toronto FC would make sense for several reasons. It would give him the chance to play alongside close friend Michael Bradley, reuniting them for the first time since they were both at Heerenveen almost a decade ago. Johnson would also help fill a void in central midfield, where he could help take some of the load off Bradley. Johnson is also a Canadian national team starter, and playing in Toronto would mean plenty of marketing and endorsement opportunities, as well as easier travel in the coming years, when he will be hoping to lead Canada through World Cup qualifying.
There are plenty of other teams that could use Johnson's services, but it is a safe bet the Timbers will oblige Johnson's request for teams he does and doesn't want to go to. Real Salt Lake did the same when it traded Johnson to Portland before the 2013 season, and Johnson certainly did enough for the Timbers organization to deserve similar treatment.
The Timbers will miss Johnson, but have replacements at the ready. Veteran Jack Jewsbury emerged as an integral figure in central midfield when called upon, while young midfielder George Fochive proved to be up to the task when pressed into action.
As for Johnson, he will be looking to try and make it three MLS Cup titles with three different teams. And before you go thinking that expecting him to win with Chicago or Toronto FC any time soon is far-fetched, remember that the same could have been said when he joined Real Salt Lake and Portland.
WILL EXTRA TAM REALLY KEEP OMAR GONZALEZ IN LA?
When Major League Soccer announced that it would be giving teams a total of $1.6 million in targeted allocation money (TAM) over the course of the next two seasons in order to help clubs add more big-ticket talent to their rosters, the easy joke was that the change was made in order to help the LA Galaxy keep Omar Gonzalez.
Before anyone calls it the 'Omar Gonzalez rule,' we might want to consider the possibility that the new TAM may not actually help keep Gonzalez in LA.
Sources tell Goal USA that the LA Galaxy are preparing to sign Gyasi Zardes to a new contract after seeing the transfer market for the U.S. national team forward go cold in recent weeks. English League Championship side Reading FC had been widely reported to be tabling a $3 million offer for Zardes, but a poor run of results led to the firing of manager Steve Clarke, and has also left Reading's transfer plans in limbo.
So what does this have to do with Gonzalez? The only way he fits in the Galaxy's salary-cap plan is if he renegotiates his contract so that his 2016 salary falls below the $1 million threshold that would allow the Galaxy to use the new TAM mechanism. If the Galaxy and Gonzalez can't agree on the parameters of a new contract, the Galaxy will have no choice but to sell.
That isn't the only reason for a Gonzalez transfer. Signing Zardes to a new, more lucrative contract rather than selling him for a sizable transfer that would yield a sizable amount of allocation money could force the Galaxy to have to sell other players, and Gonzalez is one player with clear transfer value. The Galaxy don't have much general allocation money to work with and are adding veteran goalkeeper Dan Kennedy via trade from FC Dallas, while trying to re-sign forward Alan Gordon. That's to say nothing of other potential additions.
Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena is widely regarded as a master of the MLS salary cap, but even he may be hard-pressed to keep all of the Galaxy's top players this winter, and there is a very real possibility he will have to part ways with Gonzalez, TAM or no TAM.
MLS QUICK KICKS
While Morris was the clear-cut star of the NCAA Tournament, another standout who boosted his stock is Clemson goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell. The 6-foot-3 junior shot-stopper helped Clemson hold off Syracuse in the semifinals. The redshirt junior's performance turned scouts' heads and sources tell Goal USA he could enter the draft if there is enough MLS interest. Normally juniors can only enter the MLS Draft if they are part of the Generation Adidas program, but one exception applies to graduating juniors. Tarbell is a redshirt junior who sources tell Goal USA is in line to graduate. If he enters the draft he would immediately be one of the top two goalkeepers in a weak draft class, along with Kentucky goalkeeper Callum Irving.
Richie Williams has left his post as U.S. Under-17 national team coach to join Real Salt Lake's coaching staff as an assistant. Former Philadelphia Union coach John Hackworth is believed to be the frontrunner to replace Williams as U.S. Under-17 head coach.
In other Real Salt Lake news, sources have confirmed that standout youth prospect Danny Acosta has signed a homegrown player deal with RSL. The defensive midfield prospect was one of the stars of RSL's highly regarded Under-17 team.
Speaking of homegrown players, the New York Red Bulls look ready to tap into their unmatched collection of college-based homegrown talent, with as many as four players potentially being signed this winter. Virginia freshman midfielder Derrick Etienne, Georgetown midfielder/forward Alex Muyl, Maryland midfielder Mael Corboz and Georgetown forward Brandon Allen could all be signed this winter, sources have confirmed to Goal USA. Successfully signing four homegrown players has been made possible by the recent MLS approval of more funds for signing homegrown players, which is giving teams $175,000 more to work with.