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Jordan Morris: Star among Stripes

Sunday 30th July 2017

Jordan Morris added to his early celebrity with the goal that saw the USA lift the Gold Cup last week. What does the future hold for the Seattle forward?

A native of Seattle, Washington, Morris began his career in the Sounders youth setup. After featuring for the Stanford Cardinal, he was courted by Werder Bremen but ultimately chose to return to the Sounders to star in the first team.

In 2016, he made 38 appearances for the MLS Cup champions. Major League Soccer takes frequent stick for being a "retirement league." It's astounding, then, to see a 21-year-old play such a pivotal role for its top side in his first season in a professional competition. Rewarding management's faith, he scored 12 goals in the regular season, then two more in the playoffs.

This year, Morris is pulling double duty, splitting time between the Sounders and US national team. Bruce Arena relied on the youngster for both the group stage and knockout rounds in the biennial CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament. The regional title for North and Central America and the Caribbean allows roster adjustments mid-tournament.

While impressing in the domestic league, Morris initially found himself on the USMNT starting XI's fringe. With Dom Dwyer initially preferred, he came off the bench in the first and third group stage games. This despite scoring a brace against Martinique in the second match. His effort saved face as the heavily favoured home side nearly suffered an embarrassing defeat.

Arena finally settled on Morris for the first eleven in the semi-finals and final. Dwyer was sent home. Toronto FC's Jozy Altidore arrived to partner Morris, while the youngster's Sounder teammate Clint Dempsey became the third option.

Morris proved pivotal in the final. Altidore had struck a perfect free kick to give the Americans a 1-0 lead going into the break. Early in the second half, Morris struggled to mark his man, allowing Jamaica to equalise from a corner. With regulation time running down, Morris redeemed himself. A brawny strike in the box soared up and away from all the yellow shirts, giving the US a 2-1 victory and their sixth Gold Cup.

His three goals tied several other players for golden boot honours. The others couldn't match his timing, however. The brace pulled three points from nothing. The third brought national glory. Although captain Michael Bradley was named the competition's best player, it was Morris who emerged as the true hero.

Concurrent running between the Gold Cup and MLS leaves no respite for Morris. He and Dempsey flew from Santa Clara to Los Angeles to join up with the Sounders for their weekend MLS derby with the Galaxy.

The Sounders are in the playoff picture but by no means setting the world alight. Fifth in the Western Conference, there is work to do. Morris hopefully checked his momentum into carry-on for the flight. He has only got two goals in 16 club appearances in 2017.

At 22, Jordan Morris has already accomplished more than many players do in their entire careers. He's won a league title and an international competition. Emmanuel Adebayor has done neither. Nor have Gylfi Sigurðsson, nor Harry Kane.

What next for Morris, then? Well, the important thing to remember is he's only 22. He has time to enjoy himself. He can continue to develop in his homeland or finally jump ship to Europe.

Given his accolades, there could be credible interest. Dempsey, Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and recently retired Landon Donovan are Americans who have played for mid-table sides in top UEFA competitions. Whether Bremen maintains its interest or not, there have been hums of attentiveness regarding Morris from clubs like West Ham and Everton.

He could also take an intermediate step as Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), DeAndre Yedlin (Sunderland/Newcastle), and Eric Lichaj (Villa/Forest) have all done. A club like Celta Vigo could offer Morris the game time and type of football he likes. Juan Carlos Unzué has a good pedigree, coming from FC Barcelona's assistant manager role to the top spot at the Balaídos. He'll not want to change much the former coach, Eduardo Berizzo, installed. Morris could easily slot in as a central striker to replace or enhance Swedish striker, John Guidetti. Celta plays that dangerous brand of football, going for every ball no matter the odds. That is Morris' game in a nutshell.

His physical nature would suit a second tier English side, too. Nottingham Forest is short a striker with Britt Assombalonga leaving for Middlesbrough. He would find a familiar face in Eric Lichaj at the City Ground. He could easily work with more prosperous Sheffield Wednesday, as well. He'd offer the direct offence and winning mentality needed at Hillsborough after two painful years falling just short in promotion campaigns. Given he's won more in seven months than the club has in seven years, he'd be a breath of fresh optimism on the blue side of the steel city.

I say all this as though all roads in football lead to Europe. Morris' felt homesick when on trial in Bremen. Factor that personal trait in with his playing style and you have an American version of Wayne Rooney. Major League Soccer may have a cornerstone as they build towards greater relevancy in the future. There has always been money in the States. Interest in the game has taken root now, too. Legitimate homegrown talent willing to stay at home is the last piece in the puzzle.

Whatever the future holds, Morris' will be a career worth tracking. He promises to be a star in American stripes for the foreseeable future.

Warren Smith

Yokohama F•Marinos supporter. Seen it all in the J.League, relegation fights and being crowned champions. Play five-a-side, pretty good too. Once scored an overhead kick.

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