Jordan Morris on the Move: A Look at the Striker's Runs
February 09, 2016
OVER THE PAST YEAR Jordan Morris has made his debut as a starter for the United States men's national team, scored a goal against Mexico, won an NCAA title with Stanford, went on trial with a Bundesliga club, and then decided to begin his professional career domestically with the Seattle Sounders. Clearly, he's a man on the move.
With all this activity and hype surrounding the budding star, I decided to dig a little deeper into his off-the-ball movements during the Iceland and Canada matches. My goal: to better understand when Morris is at his best for the United States and where he needs to improve to become a more complete player.
There were a couple of moments where Morris’ positioning and movement were exceptional over the course of these two games. One such instance occurred during his 15 minutes of time in the Iceland friendly on January 31.
In the GIF below, the ball is just outside the 18 yard box. Morris’ movement was well-timed and convincing enough to pull one of the Iceland backs out of a key defensive area. Morris moving toward that pocket of space with the option to receive a pass allowed for Darlington Nagbe to come down the middle of the Iceland defense unmarked and almost find the back of the net from Jerome Kiesewetter’s delivery. This was great movement from Morris, and although he did not have any touches on the ball during this build-up, was instrumental in creating the quality opportunity.
Another moment where Morris’ positioning helped create a quality opportunity for the Yanks was in the latter part of the game against Canada on Friday. A couple of things happened in the scene below. First, an ineffective ball was floated in to the mix that Morris was unable to get involved with initially. But Morris’ spacing at that moment was solid—he was not too close to Jozy Alidore so as to draw in an extra defender to his strike partner, but was close enough so that a quick and easy pass from Altidore, with his back to goal, was an easy option if Morris’ fellow attack-men ended up with the ball.
Sure enough, after a great tackle, the United States sent the ball to Altidore who then laid the it back to Morris. Brandon Vincent, who had also joined in this attacking movement made a great run down the left side of the pitch. However, without Morris acting as the linking piece between Altidore and Vincent, it would be impossible to get the ball to Vincent with the correct timing and quality and this chance would never have come about for the states that quite possibly would have been tucked away by a player not receiving his first cap.
Now, there were also a couple of moments where Jordan’s movement could have been better. These moments should have led to more dangerous opportunities or put more pressure on the defense than they actually did.
Morris tends to make runs through gaps in the opposition’s defense and then anticipate that the pass will follow him through the same gap. Consider the image that demonstrates an alternative below. This is how Altidore was able to score from a Michael Bradley pass—Altidore began his run between two defenders but looked to receive a pass through a different channel.
Now look at Morris’ movement in the GIF below. He runs toward a fellow attacker and away from open space in front of goal.
Morris needs to become better at recognizing when do look for a pass from a different angle—and to adjust his initial movement, in real time, to create the optimal opportunity.
Also, consider the following GIF.
In the sequence above Morris should have made a direct run toward goal, punishing the other team’s poor defensive organization. But he makes a weird delayed run that is angled toward the corner flag. It is another example of an attack that should have been much more dangerous than it actually ended up being. It is fair to argue that Lee Nguyen’s pass is not good enough here either. But this really does not detract from the fact that Morris needed to make a much better decision about the angle of his run.
Watching Morris during these two recent friendlies, one thing becomes clear: He is significantly better at making decisions and reading the play when the ball is out wide. For whatever reason, he just has a better knack for the attack when the ball is delivered from the outside to the inside.
So what does this mean? Should Morris and his coaches concentrate on developing his off-the-ball movement when the ball is not out wide? Definitely. But it also means that as the bigger games come around later in 2016, the men's national team may want to develop a style of play that can cater to offensive strengths of individual players like Morris.
The team may want to consider playing with more overlapping runs from the outside backs to provide greater width in the attack, generating more service swung in from out wide. Or perhaps it's time to try a 3-5-2 formation—an admittedly risky maneuver that could help a dangerous player like Morris score at a crucial point in the game.
Sam Polak is a soccer coach and freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter.