College players comprised half of the United States team for the 2009 Under-20 World Cup. Now, professional clubs snatch young Americans much sooner, helped by the advent of Major League Soccer’s Homegrown Player rule in 2008. With that kind of pressure, if players don’t sign young enough, they often get left behind.
Jordan Morris may be one glaring exception. The Stanford freshman forward and Seattle Sounders youth product was one of two non-professional players at the U.S. U21 camp this week designed to be a jumping-off point for the 2016 Summer Olympics (Santa Clara goalkeeper Kendall McIntosh was the other).
“This time around, I thought that I was definitely more comfortable going into camp just because I had been there before,” Morris, 19, told SI.com over the phone after he returned to Stanford on Thursday. “I kind of knew what to expect a little bit more.”
Morris previously played for the U.S. U-20s in the Toulon Tournament, a final tune-up before the 2013 U20 World Cup. He was named to the provisional roster but didn’t make the final cut.
He came off the bench in the U.S.’s 2-1 win over the Club Tijuana U-20 team on the final day of camp on Wednesday, assisting on Benji Joya’s winning goal in the second half. U.S. head coach Jürgen Klinsmann was on hand for the camp, and he spoke to the players about his expectations leading into Olympic qualification.
“I told them, from now on, moving forward, you’re observed by us, you’re watched by us. We’re always connected,” Klinsmann said in a recent U.S. Soccer video. “I think it’s important for them to understand at that age — 19, 20 years of age — that they start to take things in their own hands, not just waiting until people tell them what they should do next.”
The little matter of unseating the current Seattle strike partnership of Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey has kept Morris from signing with the first team, but he hasn’t used it as an excuse to stagnate in college. After scoring 28 goals for the Sounders U-18s in 2012-13, he led Pac-12 freshmen in assists and tied for the lead in goals in 2013.
His combination of strength and individual skill make him difficult to defend 1-on-1, and his vision makes him a constant threat in the attacking third. Morris has a similar build and style as Italian playmaker Antonio Cassano (but slightly bigger at 5-11, and without the short temper and behavioral antics). He can play as a target striker or trequartista, underneath the top line.
Morris, the 2013 U.S. Developmental Academy Player of the Year, trained with the Sounders over spring break in March before traveling to England to play with Everton’s academy team for a week.
“It was definitely a cool experience to see how the cultures were different between America and overseas and just how the style of play was a little bit different, too,” he said. “All those guys were so technical from such a young age. They were just constantly working on their touch and stuff like that. It was good to see how I compared to the players over there, and it definitely showed me some things that I need to work on in my game to continue to improve and get to that next level.”
Sounders fans have been aware of his quality since he played for their U-18s, and he has attained something of a cult-hero status among the American game’s purveyors of the next big thing. Talking about the reception he receives on Twitter, Morris can only laugh.
“You do see some of that over social media a little bit, and it’s really cool the Sounders have such involved fans, but I try not to look into that too much,” he said.
Perhaps Morris’ best quality as a player is his humility, coupled with a drive to continually improve. He clearly has professional aspirations, but he’s not afraid to be a college kid, either.
“I have talked to the Sounders a little bit. At this moment, I’m just kind of taking it day-by-day. I’m just enjoying college and loving the team here,” Morris said. “After next season, I’ll see where I stand and just kind of figure it out from there. For right now, definitely no decision has been made.”