91514_isi_moralesalfredo_usmntte090314259 Thomas Eisenhuth/isiphotos.com; Jeffrey Donovan for ASN
U.S. National Team

Alfredo Morales: 'I Think I Will Be Part of This Team'

The rugged 24-year-old earned his second cap for the United States on September 3 against the Czech Republic, and he's eager to push his way into Jurgen Klinsmann's inner sanctum.
BY Jeffrey Donovan Posted
September 15, 2014
12:03 PM
PRAGUE—It doesn’t take long watching Alfredo Morales to realize it’s best not to mess with this guy.

“I don’t care who’s in front of me,” he told American Soccer Now. “I want to beat everybody.”

Minutes before making his comments, Morales amply demonstrated his edge during a practice session with the U.S. national team in Prague. Chasing a lofted ball down the flank, Morales, as the photos below show, clattered into Timmy Chandler, leaving the left back writhing in pain on the pitch before limping off.

The next day, in the final moments of the Americans’ 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic, Morales would again take no prisoners, stomping on Daniel Pudil and picking up a yellow card after clocking 25 minutes in his first cap since debuting against Canada in January 2013.

Then, for good measure, the German-American of Peruvian descent was again cautioned in his next club appearance on Sept. 12 for Ingolstadt, which demolished Aalen 4-1 to vault into first in the 2.Bundesliga.

Morales is no thug. But the 24-year-old, who was in the mix for inclusion in the 2014 World Cup squad, is playing with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. Big, strong but agile, with soft touch and good vision, he’s determined to battle his way into coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s “inner sanctum” of core national players after missing out on Brazil.

He knows it won’t be easy. But the chance is there.

“Of course, I think about the World Cup in Russia maybe in four years,” he said on the sidelines of Prague’s Generali Arena pitch after practice on Sept. 2. “But I just want to go step by step—every day, every week—to play solid performances with my team, to be a key player on my team. And when I do that, I think I will be a part of this team.”

Arguably, it should have already happened for Morales.

Two years ago, he seemed set for the fast track, poised to break through at his hometown club Hertha Berlin after making his Bundesliga debut in 2011 at the age of 21. When he trained with the U.S. Olympic team before its ill-fated qualifying in 2012, for which his club did not release him, Morales stood apart. In the team’s 2-0 win over Mexico in a February friendly in Dallas before qualifying, Morales was simply “the best player out there,” Jurgen Klinsmann said.

“Mexico then won it” at the London Games, where Morales would have been one of the “biggest hopes” for the U.S. side, Klinsmann told four American reporters in Prague.

While the German-American wasn’t on the field in qualifying when the U.S. Olympic squad imploded late against El Salvador, it was around then that his own world changed in a big way. In the space of a few months, Morales had gotten married, had a baby, left his boyhood club in Berlin (which he’d joined at age 10), and moved to provincial Bavaria after having spent most of his life in the sophisticated German capital.

“It was a rollercoaster,” Klinsmann said. “I said, ‘Alfredo, you know, you’ve got to get your act together.’”

Morales was highly regarded at Berlin, the coach said. But in May 2013, feeling that he might struggle to see playing time after the team won promotion to the Bundesliga, Morales decided to drop a level and join Ingolstadt, a club owned by carmaker Audi AG.

“For me, it was a very tough decision to leave Hertha Berlin because I played there for 13 years and I have all my friends and family in Berlin,” Morales said. “In Berlin I was always like the little guy coming from the youth (academy). They treat you different.”

Ingolstadt had a whole other approach, he said. “You come to a club new, you’re like a man—you’re professional,” said Morales, who lives with his wife and two-and-a-half-year-old son in a “little house” outside the city of 120,000, located 50 miles north of Munich. “It was important for me, I played a lot of games—I think 32 of 34.”

At first, Klinsmann was skeptical of the move. But scouts Matthias Hammann and Andy Herzog kept close tabs on Morales’s development over last season, telling their boss that the kid had become a first-team regular and more “dominant,” demanding the ball.

Still, it wasn’t enough for a ticket to Brazil. “I called him before the World Cup and said, ‘Alfredo, you know, I don’t see you in that picture yet,” Klinsmann said.

Now, the slate is clean for a new generation of players to stake their claims. In Prague, the U.S. began a new four-year cycle that will include next summer’s Gold Cup, the Copa America in 2016, possibly the Confederations Cup in 2017 and the World Cup in 2018.

“Everything starts fresh, it’s up to you,” Klinsmann said he told Morales. “Show us what you have. Make your case.”

Morales is already doing that at his club, where he’s scored one goal this season. Traditionally deployed as a “No. 6” in front of the defense, he also has a new role now—higher up the pitch on the left side of midfield in a 4-3-3 formation.

“Suddenly, he has to help other players to make their moves—to shift, to do this, do that,” the U.S. coach said. “So this is kind of another switch of responsibility.”

While Ingolstadt has a good chance to be promoted, that’s not the club’s main objective, Morales said.

“They don’t want to pressure us,” he said about the owners. “We will fight for the chance for promotion if we get it—we will do everything for it. But that’s not our goal for this season. We just want to improve our game, the style we play.”

Whatever style points he may garner, Morales is clearly leaving it all on the pitch for now—whether in practice or international play.

“Normal things happen in every training,” he said about the collision with Chandler. “We both went for the header, but I was a little bit harder than him, I think. I hit him right in the back—it’s no problem. It happened but there was no serious injury.

“One hit and everything’s cool.”

Jeffrey Donovan is an ASN contributor and a veteran journalist based in Prague. Follow him on Twitter.

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