9814_stanford_supplied_jordan_morris_db_08192014_125 David Bernal/stanfordphoto.com; Jeffrey Donovan for ASN
Player Spotlight

U.S. Call-Up Has Jordan Morris Dreaming Big

The 19-year-old Stanford sophomore didn't get to play in last week's friendly against the Czech Republic, but the fact that he made the U.S. roster in the first place is an indication of his lofty talent.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
September 08, 2014
4:22 PM
TWENTY-FIVE YEARS ago nobody would have batted an eye if they saw a player like Stanford University forward Jordan Morris called into a United States men's national team friendly.

Back then college stars frequented U.S. national team rosters, but Ante Razov's cap in 1995 was the last time a college student played for the full national team. And with the advent of Major League Soccer in 1996, Razov's appearance figured to be the last.

So when Jurgen Klinsmann named Morris, 19, to his roster for last week's match against Czech Republic, the entire U.S. soccer community took notice. Never mind that Morris stayed on the bench; his mere inclusion on the roster suggests that Klinsmann has Morris in mind for the 2016 Olympic team and the coach said that many of the young players on the last week's roster would be on the roster for the October friendlies as well.

“Obviously I got the news and it came as a little bit of a surprise to me but it was a great surprise,” Morris told American Soccer Now. “I was very honored and excited. The week leading up I was a little nervous. It was a very exciting time for me and my family. It’s a lifelong dream to play for the national team. So to finally have it happen it was a dream come true."

"It was a very emotional but exciting time.”

The unlikely call-up has its origins in the U.S. national team's decision to prepare for the World Cup on the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto, Calif. The senior side scrimmaged against Stanford’s team and the broad-but-fast Morris proved to be a handful to defend—he even scored in the game.

Following that game, Klinsmann invited Morris to train with the U.S. during World Cup preparations. After the camp, Morris played for the U.S. under-21 team but he remained in contact with Klinsmann about a potential future call-up.

“I was fortunate enough to get a goal in that game and I thought I played pretty well,” Morris said. “Following that, I got to train with them a little bit. I went into those trainings like there is nothing really to lose."

"If you go in timid, you are not going to show really well. I tried to go in just as confident as I could. I thought [the training sessions] went pretty well. I continued to talk to Jurgen a little bit after those camps. I went to the U-23 camp and I had a little bit of a conversation with him and he told me about getting called up. So it’s great and he’s a great person to know. He’s been very, very helpful through all this. It’s been awesome.”

At Stanford Morris plays a forward in a 4-4-2 formation. Last year he was named first-team All-Pac 12, registering seven assists and six goals in 21 games. For a college player to receive a full U.S. national team call-up, however, is quite a jump. And Klinsmann recognizes this.

“I just came from my kind of picture and said: we see a very special talent but coming through a different environment,” Klinsmann said. “For me also I need to learn how this all functions. But I said I am not scared to give him kind of an expressway or whatever you call—it if it is all doable."

"Also, mentally, what goes on? So I had a long talk with Jordan and his dad before making this call and then with (Stanford soccer coach) Jeremy Gunn. I kept the Sounders in the loop just saying that if you do something like that, which is exceptional, we want to make sure we are doing the right thing and not overshooting anything. I gave him time to think about it. I said, 'No problem if it is not now we can do that in the January camp and so forth. But we feel like you can do that already.'”

“After having all those conversations, I felt like this is fine.”

Once called up, Morris knew the attention that would come with being a college player on the U.S. national team. While he acknowledged it was a “huge, huge honor” to be a rare NCAA call-up, he tried his best to put it out of his mind so he could focus on his game.

He practiced with the team for two days before the September 3 match, which included a 10 vs. 10 scrimmage the day before the contest. At practices he fit in well and looked effective for his first time at this level.

“Trainings were short and sharp,” Morris said. “I thought they went pretty well. It’s a whole ‘nother level from college. They were great. All these players are amazing players. It’s cool to see how you stack up against players like that.

"They’re all really, really nice guys and it was great to be in that setting where I got to spend some time with them outside of training. They’re very supportive and I felt like I got close with a bunch of them.”

The big question now for Morris: When will he make the move to the professional game? As a Seattle native who has played within the Seattle Sounders academy, Morris has the opportunity to sign with the Sounders as a homegrown player. The Sounders have been eager to sign him but it has been difficult to compete with the lure of an education at one of the world’s elite universities.

Morris, the son of a doctor, acknowledges that the decision regarding when to turn professional is complicated. He also said the recent call-up certainly gives him more information about his decision. He won’t rule out considering potential European options (which could be limited given that Morris lacks dual nationality) but he feels very attached to the Sounders organization, which has produced DeAndre Yedlin and routinely draws enormous crowds.

For now, however, the plan is to play this season at Stanford and reevaluate it then.

“It is a tough decision because this is an amazing school and I love it here and the soccer is great,” Morris explained. “Of course, my main goal is that I want to play professional soccer. That’s what I want to do and I want to go as far as I can in my career. But someday that is going to end so you want to have a backup plan. So getting a degree would be super helpful in that.

"It’s also a great place and I’ve made some lifelong friends here. It is tough to leave. But definitely being in the (U.S. camp) environment puts the professional life in perspective—it does kind of make me think about the decision a little bit more.

"Right now I am just trying to focus on my college season as best I can and help out my team here as much as I can. Once the season is over, I’ll make the decision then.”

Klinsmann knows that the decisions facing Morris are difficult. The coach is approaching Morris much in the same way he handled talented dual-nationals players over the last few years: He wants to leave the final decision up to the players without pressuring them. Instead he simply wants to give the player information regarding the U.S. team environment.

“He now has the choice going forward to say, 'Am I maybe jumping on the Sounders track in January or am I considering another year (in college) or am I maybe even considering going to Europe?’” Klinsmann said. “So now he has those pieces on the table that he can discuss with his family, with his dad, and with his coaches to make hopefully the right decision for him.

"What we can do now is we can show him those options. There is no stress to it. There is no preference to it. It’s just this is how this world can kind of work out for you hopefully. But we can also show you already another level and what we demand on that level and how we want to play it. What is the speed of the game and the speed of thought, physical speed, tempo. We give you a first sense.”

THE PAST TWO YEARS have been a whirlwind for Morris, who had never played for a U.S. youth national team prior to 2013. That year he was invited to a few U-20 camps by Tab Ramos late in the cycle. In the end he was cut and did not make the U-20 World Cup roster.

Morris believes that being cut from that team was a turning point for him in that it only motivated him to raise his game so he could return to the international arena. That opportunity has now come at the Olympic level and the national team level. In his last appearance with the U-21 team, Morris scored a goal against the Bahamas.

“It definitely added fuel to the fire that I wanted to be back there,” Morris said of the U-20 cut. “I didn’t want to settle for not making the team. That kind of got me rolling. I got called back into the U-21 camps and I think those have been going pretty well. You grow up as a kid watching the Olympics and I never thought of myself going there. Now that it is a possibility, it’s very surreal.”

“It’s been my dream since I was a little kid to play for the national team. To continue to be in that environment definitely added motivation," he added, "to hopefully get more future call-ups and hopefully get into a game.”

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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