Commentary

Jordan Morris lights up the college final

By Paul Gardner

I’m suspicious. Playing the College Division I final on a gloomy damp Sunday afternoon in Kansas City sounds like an NCAA conspiracy -- a continued conspiracy, I might say -- to belittle the sport.

Logically, you can add a virtually empty stadium to the off-puts listed above. And college soccer itself managed to make a bad situation worse ... I mean, both semifinals finishing 0-0, decided on penalty kicks? Not a goal to be seen.

Which raised the possibility that Clemson and Stanford would give us another 0-0 shootout, and the new champion would repeat the farcical doings of Sigi Schmid’s UCLA back in 1990, when they won the title without scoring a goal in either the semi or the final.

We were spared that embarrassment -- and the man doing the savior act was the guy who has been repeatedly hailed as the brightest star in the American soccer firmament, Jordan Morris. The final wasn’t even two minutes old when Morris latched on to an inviting assist, a short accurate pass from Eric Verso in the penalty area, and with massive poise and power slammed the ball into the Clemson goal.

Almost everything Morris did in this game oozed menace and trouble for Clemson. It also glittered with soccer skill. Whatever praise Morris has been getting, it’s probably not enough. How often does such a natural turn up in American soccer -- or in anyone’s soccer, for that matter? And a skillful forward at that? Yikes, a goalscoring forward?

When they’re super-talented, as Morris obviously is, but young as well, you worry, worry about what the publicity (never mind the marketing) is going to do to them. The almost tragic career of Freddy Adu haunts the theme. Praise in the media -- articles like this one -- always looks likely to do as much harm as good.

But I’m not about to apologize for my praise. Because Morris showed something else. Something I have learned to recognize, I believe, during some 50 years of watching and passing judgment on young players. What he showed was almost total calmness. What was once called unflappability.

Nothing that happened during the final seemed to change Morris’ ability to concentrate on the game, on his goalscoring task ... though task is not the right word, too functional. I think mission conveys things better. Where task makes one think of merely of work-rate, mission implies devotion, a much deeper, more intriguing quality.

Morris was fouled, of course he was -- not excessively, this was not a dirty game -- but it’s difficult to remember the occasions because the fouls seemed to have no effect on Morris. They were, so to speak, taken in stride. Nothing to notice. Nor was there any frantic celebration after his goals, no shirt peeled off and wildly waved -- just the usual mob of players mobbing an almost uncomfortable-looking Morris.

I suppose that makes Morris sound like a cold customer. Maybe -- there was certainly a suggestion of that. But remaining cool under pressure is an essential for a goalscorer, a man whose key moments come in the cauldron of the opponents’ penalty area.

I’d like to have seen more of Morris -- but Stanford’s response to getting an early goal was to play hermetic defense with an occasional breakaway. The service up to Morris was, frankly, pretty pathetic. But no complaints from Morris, no signs of frustration.

Things changed in the second half -- just five minutes in, Morris, at last, got an excellent on-the-ground pass, and, with balletic movement and superb all control completely bamboozled two Clemson defenders, before firing home.

Which put Morris on a hat trick. He could have had it -- I’m not high on stats, but when was the last hat trick in a college Division I final?. So something rare, in what, we’re told may well have been his farewell to college soccer.

In fact, Morris should have had his hat trick. He was fouled and Stanford got a penalty kick -- one that Morris should have taken. Instead, it was taken by Brandon Vincent, who scored with authority. As I imagine Morris would have done. Maybe Morris doesn’t like taking PKs -- but this one he should have taken.

Yes, I do believe Morris is the real deal, a genuine, naturally gifted goalscorer, with a calm personality to go with his skills. It’s a long time since I saw a college player -- an American -- with such promise.

Take Morris out of this college final, and you have a standard college game. An overly defensive Stanford, Clemson lacking the attacking edge, and the subtlety, to break through. Sounds like another 0-0 shootout.

Maybe not. Late in the game, as Clemson tired, or became dispirited, Stanford shed their defensive chains and we got a lovely run and a fine goal from Eric Verso.

The only negative -- as distinct from non-positive -- note came near the end of the first half. It came from referee Chris Penso -- who should have called a penalty for Clemson. Saul Chinchilla chased a pass in the Stanford penalty area and beat Stanford goalkeeper Andrew Epstein to the ball. Epstein then simply wiped him out. And that’s not even a foul according to Penso. Extraordinary.

So -- even had there been an NCAA conspiracy to make soccer look bad, it didn’t stand a chance against the super-positive aspect of this game, the Young Master Morris, who turned a gloomy Sunday afternoon into a shining occasion ... and yeah, I guess you could say I liked what I saw.

25 comments about "Jordan Morris lights up the college final".
  1. David V, December 14, 2015 at 4:57 a.m.

    Didn't see the game; just the two goals ... he looked average, nothing special

  2. beautiful game, December 14, 2015 at 9:52 a.m.

    Clemson was nowhere near the level of Stanford or Akron. I wasn't impressed that much by the play of the last four.

  3. Kent James, December 14, 2015 at 10:29 a.m.

    First, he praised the England U21 team (I think), and now saying he enjoyed something about college soccer? Who are you, and what have you done with Paul Gardner???

  4. Gus Keri replied, December 14, 2015 at 12:51 p.m.

    You beat me to it!

  5. Wooden Ships, December 14, 2015 at 11:45 a.m.

    Didn't see the final either, but did see the two goals and his coach should have given him the PK. Average??? Oh my. JM to me is one of the most promising forwards this country has produced in 2 generations. He is a gunslinger, Dirty Harry in boots. Freddy was a non soccer knowledgeable backed media creation. Jordan go overseas and apprentice. MLS will hype you too much. I played with a couple of scoring phenoms in the 70's, Steve Moyers and most especially Don Aubuchon. Jordan has the best of both. I'm very optimistic that with JM, BW, AJ and a few of the younger forwards coming along that we will have a stable of talented goal scorers for the USMNT. Jurgen needs to find, bring in some quality mids to match the promise of the young forwards. Many dismiss the two friended vs Holland and Germany where Morris and Wood provided a glimpse of the future.

  6. Glenn Maddock, December 14, 2015 at 12:04 p.m.

    Is college soccer dead? the empty stadium for all 3 matches was a disgrace. No excuse for rain, as the stadium has a roof over the stands. The 100 people that were there, were dry.
    Its a black eye for the NCAA and KC, who claimed to be a soccer town, but clearly is not. Remember when the final 4 college cup was in LA and the stadium was packed for all 3 matches?

  7. Charles O'Cain replied, December 14, 2015 at 3:32 p.m.

    Helps when one of the finalists (UCSB) is only ~ 30 miles away.

  8. Vince Leone, December 14, 2015 at 12:53 p.m.

    I have watched Morris throughout his Stanford career. He is excellent, but like most forwards, he needs good service. He didn't get much in the final (as PG said), but he made the most of what little he got. He is very right-footed--that might need to change.

  9. Wooden Ships replied, December 14, 2015 at 1:42 p.m.

    It's always best to be adept with both feet, but Hristo, Romario (I think) and many of the best have been one foot dominant. What I mostly like about JM is his off the ball awareness and sense of timing, his relentlessness, speed and finishing instinct. Vince, if you were advising him would you have him in Seattle or Europe?

  10. Vince Leone, December 14, 2015 at 12:58 p.m.

    The NCAA should allow the highest-ranked participating team to host the final. Stanford could have sold out such a game in minutes. Having the final in a big empty stadium is ridiculous. I attended the women's college cup at FAU last year and it was the same deal--a sparse crowd in a big football stadium (and on artificial turf).

  11. Kent James replied, December 15, 2015 at 11:20 a.m.

    You're right. We have to recognize that NCAA soccer is not as popular as NCAA basketball, where the final four at a neutral site makes sense. To avoid empty stands for a national championship, one of the teams involved should host (which might require that semifinals also be structured that way).

  12. Wooden Ships, December 14, 2015 at 1:08 p.m.

    Must agree with you Glenn. The KC area is very pro soccer, not sure what went wrong. Bet they never get the chance again. Is college soccer dead, probably not. I'm sure my view isn't supported in this country, but I think our society would be better served having colleges and universities reserved for academia. Too me, a former university coach, sports has harmed academia and masked the quality of degree holders. We and Canada I believe are the only two nations that try to make an industry out of sports, post secondary education. I prefer and believe we would benefit if high school ended after the 10th grade, then you have four options: go to college for two years in order to qualify for university admission, go into the world of work-vocation, join the military or other government service and finally go into pro sports and/or sport specific academies. Our experiment with elongated adolescence is hurting our nation. Whew, where the hell did that come from. Sorry everyone.

  13. Ric Fonseca replied, December 14, 2015 at 3:33 p.m.

    Folks, especially a KUDOS to Wooden Ships, and a resounding THANK YOU!!! for your insightful comments. You and I are kindred spirits, as I have also worn the coaching caps, community college/university, youth club, and served as Director of Athletics here in the vast Los Angeles area, so I know exactly what you mean. I remember when I first tried out for my undergraduate team in the SF Bay Area in 1968 but was declared ineligible as I'd been going to community college "too long" but they didn't give me credit for three years in the military. When the then AD showed me rhyme and verse, i.e. the NCAA manual, it was the size of an 5 x 8 in paperback book and about 3/4" thick, and just before they put it on line and discs, the last set I saw were the size of two bibles and as thick. Point is that intercollegiate sports, NCAA type, have gotten to be just nothing but a cash cow, and the whole concept of amateurism is but a distant memory. As for the final played yesterday, what a joke, what with barely several hundred Stanford and some Clemson fans (parents)
    it also reminded me when UCLA (my grad alma mater) in the early 1970s, played at the old Orange Bowl, then at Kazar Stadium (SF) in Busch Stadium St. Louis and then at UW Husky Bowl... also to sparse stadiums (BTW even Paul Gardner covered the final four then, 'memba Paul???) And I am one of those few "conspiracy theorists" that feels the NCAA wants to see soccer fade into the sunset - jeez, I could also cite another rhyme and verse on how they butchered the laws of the game up through the '80s even '90s, but this is another story for a rainy day - So for one of the few times I agree with Mr. Gardner, and of coruse with the above comments. As a former collegian, "wanna be-but ineligible player", coach, referee and administrator, and not withstanding the mess the NCAA has a habit of making vis-a-vis "non revenue sports," both University teams, Stanford and Clemson, certainly deserve much better than what those "sages" in the NCAA offices provided them. Simply stated, the NCAA ought to be hugely ashamed of themselves for having and wearing blinders.

  14. Wooden Ships replied, December 14, 2015 at 5:13 p.m.

    Ric, I appreciate the kindred spirit comment and I think you're correct. It sounds like we're from the same era, with you having a couple years on me. I'm from St. Louis and remember well the early collegiate days of soccer. Things have come along ways since, but that isn't saying a whole lot, since the sport was viewed with such disdain and outright hatred then. Some of that sentiment still exists and its still influencing the NCAA. I remember a thoroughly disgusting article and replies to the editor in Sports Illustrated in the early 70's. could not believe they published it. Not read that rag since. Change is slowly happening as more kids and parents come to appreciate the game. And for those of us that have played all the sports, including hockey, but not lacrosse, it really irks people when I tell them that this is the most demanding and difficult sport to master. It's done without hands, its an extreme combination of aerobic and anaerobic abilities and its very cerebral. In choosing this as every other countries national sport-pride, it befuddles many here. It's okay for it not to be your cup of tea, but the haters sound ignorant. By the way Ric, have you or anyone heard from Santiago? Always enjoyed his slant. Hope all is well with him.

  15. Adrian Gonzalez replied, December 14, 2015 at 10:09 p.m.

    Wonderful comments everyone. I am in my early 50's and my passion for the game is as strong as ever. Disgraceful to see the highlights of this Final with no one there to watch. Playing in college or MLS is not the goal for most young players here, playing overseas is the dream. I am still very involved with the youth game and there are many very good young players playing today who cannot afford to play in college and are also not seen to fit the physical requirements of what NCAA wants. These players have superior skill to what I see at the NCAA and MLS level. It is still the 'beautiful game' and has grown tremendously. Too bad I won't get to see the best quality players on the largest stage in my lifetime, unless I move to another country.

  16. stewart hayes, December 14, 2015 at 1:32 p.m.

    Good idea Vince. The NCAA should do something for clearly what they are doing is not filling stadiums. How about playing as part of a double header with a friendly USA national men's or women's match or combine with the MLS.

  17. Wooden Ships, December 14, 2015 at 1:46 p.m.

    I like that idea. Not sure how difficult the scheduling would be, but an exciting doubleheader.

  18. Andrew Brown, December 14, 2015 at 2:37 p.m.

    Been reading Paul Gardner since about 1990. He's always the contrarian! I laughed reading his praises of this game after his criticism that MLS Cup looked like NCAA soccer.

    Morris movement, poise, technique on the first goal was at another level from other players on the field. He's a special player on par with what Claudio Reyna was back in the day.

  19. Charles O'Cain, December 14, 2015 at 3:23 p.m.

    Agree with Vince. Clemson was the higher seed and would have filled Riggs (8000+), as they did with the 1987 Championship. I'm sure Stanford would have filled theirs as well, as would have the Zips. Tournament soccer at "neutral" venues is usually a disappointment. Regular season matches in the ACC are much more competitive, rarely with the excessively defensive approach seen regularly at the College Cup.

  20. Ric Fonseca, December 14, 2015 at 3:38 p.m.

    BTW, I also said in another post/comment, that had Stanford been given the opportunity to play at home, whether at the Farm - their stadium - or even at Levy Field (where Stanford soundly beat USC in football the week before) they would've had a darned large crowd, which in turn it would've meant what the ncaa want, generate $$$ via tickets, memorabilia, etc.

  21. beautiful game, December 14, 2015 at 4:03 p.m.


    College soccer is still the same, safety first, and hardly any creativity. With proper support Morris has the tools to become a solid player...but that will never happen in the MLS. He's athletically strong like Christian Vieri and hungry for the goals. BTW, Reyna and Morris can't be compared, both are totally different players.

  22. Wooden Ships replied, December 14, 2015 at 4:36 p.m.

    Agreed Iw. Reyna was a possession mid, Morris a net stretcher. And, I also agree he needs to go abroad.

  23. Wooden Ships, December 15, 2015 at 12:56 p.m.

    Adrian, your correct that many, many talented young players don't get the nod for college because of their financial/family situation, as scholarships are rarely full and even if they were there are many expenses not covered. Grants and loans are also problematic. Largely college has been a middle and upper middle class sport. I was also disappointed in many of my university coaching colleagues and their evaluations of physical attributes. For most of them that was their first category. It is know surprise the style of play and technical ability we see at that level. One of the things I use to tell recruits and players was if I'm ging to watch this much soccer I want to see it played with skill and honor. To reinforce that, I would applaud (discreetly albeit) other teams and players when I saw quality. I hear that you must win in college or you get fired so quality of play gets overlooked. Quality of play should win out over what one might describe as frantic, physical and direct. It too like many things are slowly changing. Adrian, I think we will have another shot at hosting the World Cup before we expire, haha, and I think we will have some great young players stepping forward soon. We have a few now, playing here, in Europe and Mexico. Except for women, at this point, college really isn't the best option for a professional career for men. It's just not comprehensive enough.

  24. cisco martinez, December 17, 2015 at 11:29 a.m.

    I saw the Stanford game and was fortunate enough to play against what I think is and was Stanford's best team from 2000-2002; Morris is a typical forward that we are producing with good physical attributes, but lacks technical ability. Again, this is typical of college soccer and American soccer, I would rather watch CAL soccer and look at what Kevin Grimes has done with the Cal team, really technical and tactical play.

  25. fifi Olibares, December 28, 2015 at 1:05 a.m.

    I didn't see the game, college soccer doesn't excite me at all and I don't watch mls either. I have seen this kid play with the senior national team, and to be honest he has a lot of tactical understanding of the game, he is very creative and artistic but he is extremely limited technically. his technique just looks so unnatural even when he scored against mexico in the game in san Antonio. if you look at the application of the shooting technique when he scored it looked so robotic that it made me laugh when I saw it, I hope he goes to Europe where his technique can be corrected for his own good and the good of the usmt.

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