When I think back to when I was a junior in college — sadly, over a decade ago at this point — and try to remember what responsibilities weighed heavily on me, my “burdens” were pretty typical of your average college aged guy.
There were of course my studies, which probably deserved higher priority than they received. There was also soccer, preparing for a senior season with high expectations having won the league that year. Of course there was a social life to attend to, too. There was a job working at the mall that was roughly 45 minutes away, but I couldn’t ever make the schedule work between it and the previous three balls I was juggling. And I might have started thinking about what I was going to do post graduation: where I was going to live, what kind of job was I going to land, and how I might be able to pay off the ever-increasing pile of student loans I was adding to. But probably not.
Millions of American kids are encumbered with similar concerns year after year, and most of us come out of it just fine. And the path to navigating those obstacles and choices is a well trodden one, with examples of friends and family to follow if need be. Plus we have the benefit of being able to make all of those decisions without the rest of the world scrutinizing them.
Unfortunately, Jordan Morris doesn’t have it so lucky.
Of course, that should be expected when you’re a college-based player that gets called into the national team before you’ve ever played a professional game and score a winner against your country’s greatest rival.
In short, Morris hasn’t helped himself by committing the sin of playing really well. Opting to stay in college and play his junior year after scoring that breakout goal has left many feeling like he made a choice that ran counter to his and our national team’s development. Falling into a rich vein of form to lead his Stanford University team to a national championship only served to further build up the hype. And it’s those feelings has encouraged hyperfocus on every move he makes.
Also not helping things are the very public courting of Morris by the Seattle Sounders — the team for which Morris was an academy product — and Major League Soccer. It’s pretty much common knowledge that Seattle are dangling the richest ever homegrown contract to coax him to stay with the club. And MLS Commissioner Don Garber even went as far as to say Morris is “the future of the league” at the MLS SuperDraft last week. Can you feel that weight on your shoulders yet, Jordan?
And too, there’s the national team manager and technical director, Jurgen Klinsmann, quietly suggesting the youngster go to Europe to sharpen his skills at the highest level possible — a message he’s repeated time and time again when talking about all of his US players. That coaxing resulted in a trial stint with German outfit Werder Bremen, where he impressed enough for rumors to circulate that he would be making the trial a permanent move.
Because of all of that, Morris has morphed into more than just a national team prospect. Now he’s the physical embodiment of the long-brewing debate over whether it’s better to have American players plying their trade abroad or here at home. He’s not the first player to be questioned over the matter — veterans and squad linchpins like Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley returning from Europe for mega dollars opened the discussion a few years ago — but thanks to the fact that he’s still developing and could potentially be a star player for club and country has made him the perfect poster child for the debate
We now have massive online wars brewing about whether the guy should be thrilled to sign for his hometown club, or whether he’s an idiot for turning down the opportunity to fight for a place on the bench a so-so European club.
A 21-year old, college junior serving as little more than the rope at in a massive ideological tug-of-war.
I’m not here to debate the merits of either of those systems right now: that’s a discussion for another day. But what I am here to point out is that what we’re all arguing about is a kid.
Many seem willing to crucify him for whatever decision he makes, when the average 21-year-old across the American landscape is judged on far different standards. We allow them the opportunity to not only make wrong choices, but also learn from them. And nobody judges them for going through the learning process. Morris won’t be afforded the same luxury, and that sucks.
Too, I find it 100% confusing that MLS and the Sounders should be chastised for pursuing a desirable asset, one that other clubs in other countries clearly find to be something they would be interested in acquiring. How dare they do whatever is in their power to convince that asset to choose them!
And then there’s Jurgen Klinsmann, getting heat from MLS corners for giving advice to a player that he thinks would aid in his development. What a preposterous thing for a national team coach to do!
There are no right or wrong answers here. Had Morris chosen Bremen, then everyone in the MLS corner would be outraged with Klinsmann and Morris and maybe even MLS for not ponying up money. If Morris chooses the Sounders — which is looking likely — then everyone in the European camp would announce the impending death of the national team. The reality is that MLS and the national team’s goals don’t always 100% align. Somehow, people seem to lose sight of the fact that the opinions of each of those entities reflects their own stated goals and ambitions.
Ultimately, whatever choice is made will come down to what Morris and his family think is the best option for him as a person. If that doesn’t align with your world view, keep in mind that it’s not the end of the world either way. Recall how it’s worked out when we’ve overhyped an offensive American player a time or five before.
Morris’ development could be stunted, or he could thrive and end up the best player we’ve ever had. One player does not a team make. He could serve as precedent for players that come after him, or he could be an anomaly.
And perhaps most importantly, remember that we’re just talking about a college junior. Maybe placing the weight of the world on his young shoulders isn’t the wisest idea quite yet.