Jordan Morris, a.k.a. the newest chase rabbit in American soccer’s perpetual “next big thing” pursuit, has already established himself as a unique figure in the domestic game. He was a college kid who stamped a mark on the national team; Morris had another collegiate season at Stanford in him when he debuted (and scored!) at full international level against Mexico last spring in Texas.
Some of the booming voices in American soccer have pointed out Morris’ incredible position of leverage in the shark tank of current, professional negotiations. Here is what ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman just told Extra Time Radio:
“Jurgen Klinsmann is right in one sense on this: Jordan Morris, since the inception of Major League Soccer, is the only player to come out of college, to negotiate a contract and have the leverage of (being) a full national team player. Even Landon Donovan did not have that.”
So Morris already holds some unusual, if not unique positions, in domestic soccer. The young man is already busting up molds and models.
And in this flare-up of Jordan Morris frenzy, I see one more fascinating angle, one less discussed so far as he weighs his options, primarily between Germany’s Werder Bremen and the Seattle Sounders:
Klinsmann wants players to test themselves overseas, as we know. Of course, it’s not the “overseas” part, per se, that Klinsmann covets for America’s best and brightest; it’s the environment. Specifically, it’s the cultural immersion and day-to-day pressure that squeezes the very best from athletes. It’s Klinsmann’s beloved “bakery theory.”
It goes like this: When players in Germany or elsewhere in Europe lose on the weekend, they can barely go enjoy a cup of strong European coffee or stop at the local bakery for scones or brotchen or whatever because everyone in town is pissed off at them. Fold in the extraordinary layers of competition for playing time and that creates a zippy environment, one that ultimately pounds out the best soccer players, or so the theory goes.
But what if the pressure is actually greater elsewhere? What if the bigger, badder burden of expectation lies in – Egad! Say it ain’t so! – Major League Soccer?
We may have reached that previously unreached point with Morris. We may have ventured into this very odd place where, in this particular case, Morris will have feel more pressure in MLS as opposed to performing overseas. Klinsmann may be loath to admit as much, but you can make a decent case that the balance tips that way here. Not across the board, of course, but in this case.
Had he gone to Werder Bremen (which looks increasingly unlikely, according to the latest reports), he would toil away rather anonymously while chasing playing time with a bunch of other young hopefuls. In Germany, he is just another big, strong kid making his case for a mid-level team.
But a slightly heavier burden falls if he signs with the Sounders, where Morris’s deal with Seattle will easily eclipse all previous MLS contracts for homegrown players, according to Seattle manager Sigi Schmid and general manager Garth Lagerwey. The pressure starts and builds from there.
Generally speaking, we would probably agree that pressure to win in MLS is jayvee-level compared to expectations in Germany. See Klinsmann’s “bakery theory,” above. Or just think about the build-up of decades upon decades of pressure in England, Germany, Italy, Spain, etc.
On the other hand, there are a couple of MLS outposts where hope and expectancy weigh heavy. Seattle, of course, with its billowing and boisterous fan base, is one of them. The Sounders organization has achieved so, so much since joining MLS in 2009. (It’s a history rich club that achieved amply prior to MLS days, too, of course.) But the granddaddy of MLS spoils, the MLS Cup, has yet to find its way into CenturyLink Field. The club has yet to appear as a finalist even, and the squeeze to get there approaches crush depth.
As if the two-ton pressure wasn’t clunky enough already, now bitter rival Portland has an MLS Cup crown. Talk about super-sizing the tension!
So, clearly, Morris would tote his share of the load where club hope and promise mount for Sounders FC.
SEE MORE: Morris’s decision won’t hurt the USMNT.
Then comes the competition aspect. At CenturyLink, Morris will presumably compete for front-line spots with Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and Nelson Valdez. If you say, “Schmid will be under pressure to play the big, homegrown signing,” well, you might be correct. But every manager dwells under constant pressure to play the high earning DPs as well; Dempsey, Martins and Valdez are all DPs. So there’s that.
There is plenty of competition for minutes. Being no expert on Werder Bremen’s roster and current player form, I cannot establish a clear “more” or “less” level here compared to Seattle. But we can all reasonably agree that minutes for Morris in MLS aren’t going to be handed to him; he’ll earn his time through effort, tactical comprehensive and ultimate production … or he’ll sit.
Finally, throw in the burden of being a “first.” In some ways, Morris is carrying the pride of the college game. If he fails, he adds more weight to the argument against the college game as a developmental mechanism for Major League Soccer. Plus, MLS managers and technical directors might add a layer of reluctance when the next opportunity arises to offer a big-boy level contract to a lesser tested homegrown kid.
If there’s more pressure at Werder Bremen, it’ll be measured in ounces more than pounds. The kid’s got a lot going for him, but there’s already a lot expected of him, regardless of where he lands.
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