One of the most exciting prospects in American soccer has finally decided to start his professional career. After three successful seasons at Stanford, including a national title in 2015, Jordan Morris announced that he would forego his senior season. The 21-year-old’s performances on both the collegiate and international stages have made some fans stateside consider him the next great American star. Morris has already been offered a homegrown contract by the Seattle Sounders in the MLS, and Werder Bremen confirmed that the striker would join them for their Winter training camp in Turkey. This pivotal decision could set the stage for a great, fruitful career for Morris, or it could lead him down the disappointing path of so many great prospects for him.
I think the best place to start this piece would be to look at the “great” American youngsters that didn’t really pan out over in Europe.
Yes, Jozy has been relatively successful on the international stage, and has now started to establish himself in the MLS. However, the 26-year-old never really performed at the highest level. Altidore spent seven years plying his trade in Europe, and only one of those could be considered anything close to a success. Through those years, Altidore spent time with Villareal, Hull City, and Sunderland, and in almost 80 appearances, he found the back of the net…three times.
Altidore made the move to Villareal at the age of 17, and I think it’s fair to argue that he wasn’t quite ready for the jump to European competition. That move even came after the striker had been playing professionally with the Red Bulls for the previous two years. Granted, MLS doesn’t quite compare to Spanish competition, but it did give him the chance to adjust to the physicality of the professional game. Even with Morris’ limited international experience, the question has to be asked if he’s ready for Europe or if he should follow the MLS path.
Perhaps the most infamous soccer prodigy of all time, Freddy Adu was once thought to be the savior of U.S. soccer. Now, the 26-year-old is plying his trade in the minor leagues of American soccer after a litany of unsuccessful stints across Europe. Similarly to Jozy, Adu made the move to Europe as a teenager and just like Jozy he struggled to find a home. Through his seven years away from the states, Adu played in Portugal, France, Greece, Finland and Serbia, to name just a few.
All of those short stints gave further evidence that Adu was never really ready to leave the MLS. He had a brief bit of success during the 2011 Gold Cup, but that proved to be more of a fluke than a sign of future success. His inability to find consistent game time at such a vital age of development derailed the massive amount of potential he had at the start of his career, and if Morris encounters similar issues he could suffer the same fate.
Alright, now that we’ve looked at the worst case scenarios, let’s examine the more successful Americans abroad.
Even though Dempsey has now returned stateside, he had arguably one of the most successful careers of any American outfield player in Europe. After moving to Fulham as a 24-year-old, the Texan striker established himself as a consistent starter in club’s first team. Over the next six years, Dempsey would appear in 200+ Premier League matches and score more than 50 goals along the way.
I think the two biggest differences between Dempsey and our last two examples have to be the age that he made the move to Europe, and the playing time he was granted. Already in his mid-twenties by the time he moved, Dempsey was able to arrive in England already at the peak of his physical ability and already a successful star in both the MLS and the international stage. Fulham also gave him the chance to prove himself on the field, which allowed him to further develop into the striker we know today. If Morris was to make the move to Europe, he would most likely have to go to a lower division side if he wanted to consistently see the pitch.
After moving to Hannover 96 as a 20-year-old, Steve Cherundolo was able to become a club legend after playing for nearly 15 seasons and racking up over 350 league appearances. During his time in Germany, Cherundolo helped Hannover reclaim a spot in the Bundesliga and would eventually become the club’s captain. The U.S. defender was eased into the first team setup, and it wasn’t until his third season that he made more than 20 appearances in the league.
While Cherundolo played a completely different position than Morris as a fullback, this type of success at the top level is something that Stanford striker should strive for in his career. Cherundolo, while initially limited, managed to develop in Hannover’s reserves and eventually become a world-class defender both for club and country. Should Morris make a move to a top-tier side, he needs to be ready for life on the B-team at the start.
Now that we’ve looked at a couple of examples, it’s time to discuss what path Morris should take. A move to the Sounders would give him the chance to learn from veterans such as Dempsey, and Obafemi Martins. It would also give him a better chance of consistently playing and learning to adapt with the jump in competition level. However, it wouldn’t give him the same type of challenge and exposure that European competition brings. On the other hand, if he decides to follow through with a potential European adventure, he faces the challenge of adjusting to a new culture, and risks the fate of players like Altidore and Adu.
In my opinion, I think that Morris would benefit from spending the first two or three years of his professional career stateside. This would let him sharpen his skills at the pro level and would give him time to adjust under considerably less pressure.