The continued discussions over the future of Jordan Morris, the young American striker who has already recorded seven senior caps for the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) before turning pro, have dominated the recent headlines around US soccer. Morris, who is from Seattle, has been reportedly been offered the most lucrative contracts for a youngster in the twenty one year history of Major League Soccer. Morris spent one season with the Sounders youth academy and played for the club’s U-23 fourth division side two years ago.
After a sterling college career at Stanford University, Morris is now turning pro. Seattle own his MLS rights and it seemed inevitable he would sign the long-term deal on offer from the US-based league. Morris’ father is the team doctor for the Seattle Sounders and recent years have seen a movement of American players back to MLS from Europe.
When Major League Soccer adopted the “Designated Player Rule” in 2007, it was generally assumed the rule should not be used to sign American players. At the time, US Men’s National Team pool players were regularly leaving MLS for second and third tier European leagues that offered higher pay. But the league also had developed a reputation for not letting higher-profile American players leave without meeting what were unrealistic asking prices.
At the time of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, all but four US Men’s National Team players plied their trade outside MLS and the four that were in MLS would all play abroad for some period of time within the next few years. But now, thanks to MLS’ new commitment to making USMNT players designated players or core players, many current members of the men’s national team have never played club soccer abroad.
With this in mind, Morris’ decision to go on trial with Werder Bremen of the Bundesliga sent shockwaves through the US soccer community and reignited a debate about whether American players should sign in MLS to guarantee games or try and compete in top European leagues for playing time. The discussion has torn apart the US soccer community in recent days. But Morris is not an ordinary young American player. He’s the best attacking prospect the national team has had in recent years.
Morris may have a decision to make. His trial was recently extended by Werder Bremen and the club’s Manager Viktor Skripnik has clearly been impressed by Morris.
“On the first real day of training, the impressions are very positive. I am surprised in which great shape this young man from America is. And he’s got a good understanding of football, looks for open spaces.”
One of the chief concerns about a young player signing in MLS is that the league has historically overvalued its players, having in the past rejected reasonable transfer fees from foreign clubs for younger or more marketable guys. But in recent years, players like DeAndre Yedlin, also from the Seattle area, were allowed to leave the league at the right time when European clubs showed significant interest.
On Saturday at the NSCAA Convention in Baltimore, Eric Wynalda — who is one of the leading scorers in USMNT history and a FOX Sports commentator — took aim at MLS. Among other shots at the league and its business structure, Wynalda repeated the mantra that MLS tends to hold players hostage.
“The league has, to date, cancelled or not allowed over 227 moves to Europe – wait, that number just went up.”
Wynalda’s number of 227 is obviously exaggerated but it speaks to the point that a perception exists that when players that sign long-term deals in MLS are ready to leave in order to further their career, business considerations get in the way.
But every move or blocked one by MLS continues to be cheered on by fans, bloggers and some professional media who seem incapable of separating what might be good for MLS as a business from what is positive for the overall trajectory of US Soccer. Young American players signing with high-level European clubs is, from where I sit, an unequivocally good thing.
However many well-respected voices in the US soccer blogosphere and media community are actively cheering on MLS and Seattle to sign Morris. The justification always seems to be around players getting match time, while issues such as the level of training, tactical coaching players receive, professionalism, competition for spots and consistent outside pressure are conveniently ignored by MLS proponents.
If it’s established that MLS is a business that is into promoting its league for marketing reasons, much of the discussion changes. But time and again what has been represented as good for MLS is seen as positive for American soccer. That simply isn’t the case, and the Morris situation from my vantage point illustrates that.
If proponents of Morris securing an MLS deal openly stated that his signing would be good for the league as a business proposition, it would certainly be more honest. But acting as if Morris, who is a unique talent, will be better served by game time in MLS than signing in Europe — and that this ultimately will benefit the US Men’s National Team — is fundamentally dishonest.
This is not to say MLS isn’t the best path for some US men’s players who need to develop. But Morris is an exceptionally rare talent, and his development which will serve the US Men’s National Team well would be best aided by a move to Europe as soon as possible, hopefully this January.