U.S. Men's National Team

Jordan Morris Is Staying at Stanford: Smart Decision?

To help answer that question, we spoke with Jeremy Gunn, men's soccer coach at Stanford, who helped contextualize his star player's rationale for putting his professional career on hold.
BY Brooke Tunstall Posted
January 16, 2015
5:00 PM
PHILADELPHIA—When you coach the first player in 20 years to be capped while still in college, and when that player passes on turning pro to stay in school, there are going to be a lot of questions about that process.

Stanford coach Jeremy Gunn was a featured speaker at the National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s annual convention here and despite having won a national title at the Division II level, taking Charlotte on a great run to the NCAA final in 2011, and then rebuilding Stanford into a national power, it was Jordan Morris that Gunn found himself talking about.

Morris, a sophomore forward on the Stanford soccer team, made headlines last fall when he was called up by Jurgen Klinsmann several times and became the first active college player in two decades to be capped by the senior U.S. national team when he came on in the second half of a game against Ireland last month.

A powerfully built product of the Seattle Sounders academy, Morris is a leading contender to lead the U.S. U-23 national team as it begins Olympic qualifying next year. And, it's worth mentioning, it was widely assumed that in order to help in those preparations that Morris would turn pro this winter, either by signing a homegrown deal with the Sounders or signing with a club in Europe. Instead, as American Soccer Now first reported, Morris announced he’d be returning to Stanford for his junior year.

“I was kept abreast, kept in the loop of his decision but I didn’t have any input on it,” Gunn told ASN. “But I understand it. Obviously a professional environment is important for some players but it’s not the only path. And personal development is just as important to being successful, even in soccer.

"In terms of growth as a person, Jordan felt coming back to Stanford was the best thing for him. And I think that will make him a better soccer player.”

Stanford, of course, is one of the great academic institutions on the planet, a combination of brilliant minds, beautiful weather on a scenic campus, and for those who pursue it, high-end athletics. The Cardinal’s non-revenue sports include several current and future Olympians and the football and basketball programs routinely send multiple players to the NFL and NBA.

“The Stanford experience...you’re surrounded by some of the brightest minds with great role models all around you," Gunn said. "You go in the weight room and you’re next to an Olympic medalist or a guy who is going to be signing a multimillion dollar contract but still pursuing his education. There are great role models for how to succeed and he’s in the best environment for being a successful person. And that, in turn, leads to a better player.

“And then you’ve got the degree, which has real value and prestige. Tuition here is $62,000 a year so that’s a lot to walk away from for an MLS salary. When you factor in taxes, if you’re being paid $100,000 a year there’s not much difference between that and a full scholarship to Stanford.”

Gunn said that despite college soccer's short season and the fact that Morris is typically the best player anytime he took the field, the 19-year-old still has made huge gains since coming to Palo Alto before the 2013 season.

“He sees the game so much better, he’s so much more composed and uses his teammates and times his runs better,” Gunn said. “He’s such a naturally powerful player, strong and fast, but he’s learning to be a more complete player and not just rely on the physical aspects of his game.”

Gunn believes the nature of the college game, with its emphasis on development, can help Morris at this stage of his career.

“At Seattle, if for instance their right back is struggling, Sigi (Schmid, Seattle’s coach) has to go out and find another right back to replace him and if he doesn’t get better, ultimately cut him. That’s a coach’s job at that level, to do what is needed to win games,” Gunn said. “At the college level, if my right back is struggling, my job is to work with him to make him a better right back.”

“So with Jordan, he’s in an environment where everything we do is about trying to get him to be a better player.”

Morris is not the only pro prospect on Stanford’s roster. Junior defender Brandon Vincent, a likely first round pick next year, was a second-team All American according to several publications. And U.S. youth national team player Corey Baird, a product of Real Salt Lake’s academy, had a strong freshman season.

“Brandon is a little under-sized for a center back but for a team that plays three defenders in the back, as some MLS teams are starting to do, he’s a perfect left back,” Gunn said. “Corey had a strong first year and in a couple of years he’ll probably have the same choice in front of him that Jordan has.

Gunn is a big advocate of the NSCAA’s proposal to extend the college season to both the fall and the spring, but readily admits it will be a tough sell to athletic directors.

“It can’t be for sporting reasons, even though those will help the game,” he said. “It has to be for the good of the student-athlete, for their health, only playing one game a week, and for their schooling, having less travel and missing less class time. That’s how we’ll have to sell it.”

Brooke Tunstall is an American Soccer Now contributing editor and ASN 100 panelist. You can follow him on Twitter.

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