Commentary

The Jordan Morris conundrum, what it means for MLS now and for the future

By Paul Kennedy
(@pkedit)

Momentum for a move to Werder Bremen continues to build as Jordan Morris played his first game for the German club on Friday, starting and assisting on the lone goal in its 1-0 win over Inter Baku of Azerbaijan in a friendly game that wrapped up its winter camp in Turkey.

No one except Morris knows what he'll do, but it sure looks like he's headed to Bremen, spurning the most lucrative Homegrown player contract ever offered by an MLS club.

Until now, all interested parties have been saying the right things.

From the Bremen camp in the Turkish resort town of Belek, Werder coach Viktor Skripnik told German paper Kreiszeitung that "the impressions are very positive." Added Morris, "I am happy and excited.” (What else would he say?)

From the Sounders, the buzz word was "process."

Sounders general manager and president of soccer Garth Lagerwey: "I'm confident we'll have a clear line of communication as to what outcome he reaches. We have to respect the process, we have to respect Jordan."

Sounders coach Sigi Schmid speaking at the SuperDraft, used the analogy of what he told recruits when he coached at UCLA: "I want you to see everything you want because I want you to be here because you want to be here."

Whether Morris signs with the Sounders or not, they will move on. They open their season in six weeks in the Concacaf Champions League.

But in the bigger picture, Morris' decision is of huge symbolic  importance to MLS. If the league can't land the most touted player of his generation and family at that -- his father is the Sounders' team doctor -- who can it sign?

The Morris conundrum -- starting his career for his hometown team or taking a presumably much larger offer for a riskier situation with a relegation-threatened club -- is bigger than MLS.

What is also best for Jordan Morris isn't just about MLS, it's about the national team, and that's where interests conflict.

Andi Herzog, Morris' coach on the U.S. under-23 national team, helped set up Morris’ trial at Werder Bremen, where Herzog starred as a player. Herzog told Kreiszeitung the goal of the national team was to bring as many players as possible to Europe, then backtracked and claimed he was misquoted.

MLS commissioner Don Garber took Herzog at his word, saying the federation -- national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann and Herzog -- wasn't meddling.

"None of the federation’s staff are encouraging players to sign overseas and not with Major League Soccer," he said at the SuperDraft. "I think Andi was very clear about that."

Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson, for one, didn't believe Herzog.

"There's no doubt that Herzog was quoted correctly," he said on the Soccer Made in Portland podcast, "because that's an accurate sentiment among the coaches for the U.S. national team right now. That stems from the top and that stems from Jurgen. I don't think you're going to find a single MLS owner who's going to be an advocate of Jurgen Klinsmann. This is a guy who's got a clear agenda that's an anti-MLS agenda."

Paulson, who took a long pause before he went off on Klinsmann, said he had to be careful what he said and was quick to point out it was "one opinion, that's my opinion."

"Obviously, Darlington Nagbe is on the [national] team and I hope me expressing any sort of candid answer to you on that question doesn't have any impact there," Paulson added. "We support Nagbe and we're thrilled that Jurgen rates him, but he's crapped all over MLS in many ways subtle and not subtle. For this sport to be successful in this country, for the national team to be successful, the national team and our domestic league need to be pointing in the same direction more often than not and that just hasn't been the case under Jurgen Klinsmann."

But Klinsmann is the national team coach, and it's his responsibility to be sure every one of his players gets the best opportunities. Even Garber admitted as much.

The problem isn't Klinsmann or Herzog encouraging their players to go to Europe, it's saying that publicly. Political correctness.

In some ways, Jordan Morris is a bad example. He's already a full international, set to sign his first pro contract. What's best for him isn't simply a pro environment to develop into a first-team player. He's already there.

Werder Bremen isn't going to sign him to send him down to its under-23 team. It's going to sign him because it needs him to help avoid relegation.

But a bigger problem for MLS is that other players will come along in the future who are better than Jordan Morris. Players who are not family.

In the years ahead, MLS clubs will presumably offer better playing opportunities so they develop into first-team players. One day, our Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo will come along, and MLS must be set up to sign him. The mechanisms in place won't make it happen.

The most lucrative Homegrown player contract ever offered won't be enough to land him.
25 comments about "The Jordan Morris conundrum, what it means for MLS now and for the future".
  1. Fingers Crossed, January 15, 2016 at 3:19 p.m.

    If Werder Bremen is better for Jordan Morris, then that's where he should play. Players need to choose the best path for them and their career. Matt Besler could have gone to Europe after the 2014 World Cup but chose to stay in MLS. Last time I checked, he's still on the national team. The US is not the only country to send its players to Europe. Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile all send players to Europe. I really don't understand all of the hand-wringing around what this means for MLS. If one player chooses Europe over MLS, it's not a comment on MLS. Stop looking at this issue as a zero-sum decision.

  2. Ric Fonseca replied, January 15, 2016 at 3:39 p.m.

    Well said, Fingers Crossed! PK above points out that Jordan Morris is "family" and alludes to the fact that he ought to sign with the Sounders. OK, fine and dandy,but it is curious to note that he, JM comes from a well-off family, more than likely went to a private or maybe, just maybe a public school, and then was admitted to yet an excellent university. So he had the requisite support units behind him, home, sport, education, and now his pops is the Sounder's team doc. OK, kudos to him, BUT, if he, Jordan feels that it is in his best interest to play in Germany, OK then go! This isn't a knock on Sigi, whom I've known since his freshman years at UCLA, he's put together a pretty darned good program in Seattle, but IMHO Jordan will benefit more so in Europe. As for other countries "sending" their players to Europe, I think we should learn something from them, only and until MLS gets its act together!

  3. Allan Lindh, January 15, 2016 at 3:32 p.m.

    Right on Fingers. Gareth Bale doesn't play for a Welsh club, he plays for the best club in the world he can play for. We should be proud, and wish him the best. Hard to imagine a better representative of the new US soccer world playing in Europe. He can come back to MLS when he's old and slow.

  4. Ric Fonseca replied, January 15, 2016 at 10:04 p.m.

    "Old and slow???" Nah! Don't think so, more highly skilled and mature!!!

  5. Miguel Dedo, January 15, 2016 at 3:41 p.m.

    JK’s challenge is to develop strong US players. Playing (not watching from the bench) in a top European league provides today the best route. Reality indicates that MLS will be the route for many US players, it therefore behoves JK to do what he can to build up MLS. Quietly helping US players to find places in Europe where they will play could be part of JK’s strategy; bad-mouthing the MLS, certainly not. JK faces a balance that is not easy to find. Klinsmann and Herzog sometimes speak from arrogance rather than from a calculated sense of advancing their own job responsibilities.

  6. Walt Pericciuoli, January 15, 2016 at 4:11 p.m.

    I think MLS would have an argument if all their players were 100% homegrown. Otherwise, shut up. If you want the best league, you need the best players. To get the best players, American or not,you've got to pay them the best. Case closed.

  7. I w Nowozeniuk, January 15, 2016 at 4:48 p.m.

    Some solid comments for a change. It takes maturity and passion in order to hone ones talent overseas. Look at LD, i.e., talented, but unable to make that big leap.

  8. Scott Johnson, January 15, 2016 at 5:01 p.m.

    Does MLS want the best players, or the most marketable American players? Where, in the soccer pantheon, do Garber and company suppose MLS presently lies? The league has gone from "utter joke" back in its infancy, to probably the second best league in CONCACAF (behind Liga MX), but still remains a level or two behind La Liga, the EPL, the Bundesliga, etc. (At this point, MLS is probably a better destination than many of the second-tier European leagues--would anyone argue that the Championship, the league below the EPL in England, has better football than MLS?)

  9. J King, January 15, 2016 at 9:09 p.m.

    It is easier to select players for a roster from a non MLS team when the MLS disregards international breaks.

  10. Ric Fonseca, January 15, 2016 at 10:07 p.m.

    The biggest knock against homegrown players e.g. Jordan Morris, is that because they are so few and far apart is that when they take the field and outshine their opponents and even their own team mates, we've a tendency to build them up on a pedestal, talk about if they're the next best thing to come, and in turn coddle them and build them up even more than necessary to the point wherein they believe the hype and begin to think their poop doesn't stink.

  11. Wooden Ships replied, January 16, 2016 at 11:02 a.m.

    Freddy Adu.

  12. Joe Linzner, January 15, 2016 at 10:46 p.m.

    great and thoughtful comments. I do however take some exception as talking due to arrogance. Why is the truth labeled arrogance when a non native says it.

  13. Wooden Ships replied, January 16, 2016 at 11:12 a.m.

    I agree with you. It isn't arrogance its obvious. Some of our soccer citizens and players want sweet nothing's whispered in their ears. Besides still lagging behind in technical ability, maybe our greatest impediment is our emotional and mental fragility. How do we know that it was time for someone of JK's pedigree-Bradley and Arena would be fine with MLS

  14. Gabriel Chapman, January 16, 2016 at 5:19 a.m.

    Our best players must play in the most competitive leagues they can. At the same time, the MLS must keep doing everything it can to develop homegrown players, to attract top players and be a more competitive league, which will go hand in hand with marketing itself well, increasing attendances and making money. The MLS is not quite yet there but it's heading in the right direction. If Klinsmann didn't advocate for our best players to go abroad at this point, he would be doing them a disservice.

  15. Wooden Ships replied, January 16, 2016 at 11:15 a.m.

    Well said Gabriel.

  16. R2 Dad, January 16, 2016 at 9:12 a.m.

    MLS/US Soccer has a monopoly in the US market, and it hurts their feelings when individuals don't fall in line when they choose to disrupt the market power MLS thinks they've "earned". But they haven't earned it, it's a monopoly. I don't see MLB complaining that some of "their" players go to Japan to compete. Why? Because MLB is the best baseball league in the world. MLS is now a second tier league, looking up at the big boys and crying to Garber & Sunil about the inequity of it all. #hissyfit

  17. Wooden Ships, January 16, 2016 at 11:30 a.m.

    R 2, back in the 60's and 70's, we players dreamed of the growth of the game, with multi tiered professional leagues. Much has been realized to that end. We are decades behind, but rapidly gaining. The US isn't known for patience with nearly anything (which reflects are technical impatience) but we are being humbled as we go. The MLS might never be in the top 6 or 7 leagues in the world, but we could be in CONCACAF. Promotion-Relegation will accelerate the quality of MLS.

  18. R2 Dad replied, January 16, 2016 at 11:50 a.m.

    If Only!

  19. James Froehlich, January 16, 2016 at 1:11 p.m.

    I am not a fan of MLS but I used to be and someday I hope to be again! Nevertheless I sympathize with the owners regarding the issue of sending US players to other leagues. In the bottom of their black, little, money-grubbing hearts they know that playing in the best leagues is indeed best for the players but it would be a PR and practical disaster to bad mouth the player himself so what can they do other than pillory theNational Team Coach who has the effrontery to attack the value of their "product". That word "product" is important since it represents the outlook of most, not all, owners, who are in this for the money, not for any inherent appreciation of the game. Fans need to remember that. None of these owners are doing this for some deep love of the game. And, there is nothing wrong with that but that needs to be remembered when listening to their attacks on JK and Bert Vogt. Instead of resorting to these juvenile attacks, using the cliche of German arrogance, they should concentrate on improving the real essence of their "product". Instead of continuing to bring in big names in their twilight years, spend some big bucks on players in their prime, even though their names don't have the immediate cache among novice soccer fans. It's called investing!! Then take a good look at the reputation of the league as the home of hacking and generally physical play. While this may attract disaffected hockey fans it doesn't improve the attractiveness of play nor does it attract skillful young players. Spending the effort and money to improve the level of refereeing would go a long way to improve things in several areas. Finally it is necessary that the owners continue to improve the recruitment and training of young players. While college can be expected to provide a couple real candidates each year, the emphasis and corresponding funds need to go elsewhere.

  20. Ric Fonseca replied, January 18, 2016 at 1:49 p.m.

    Thank you James Froehlich, I couldn't agree with you much more! Well said!!!

  21. Wes Strauss, January 17, 2016 at 2:43 p.m.

    The sentiments here are very illogical. "all" of the MLS owners are in it for the money? Basic logic tells you that's inherently not true. It is a sweeping generalization with no supporting evidence. There is easily a case to be made for the opposite - that MLS owners are in it for the love of soccer and of course making pro soccer a better product in the U.S. as part of wanting to see and provide better soccer in the U.S. If they were in it for the money, they would invest in a different sport in the U.S. A good case in point is Drew Carey, who came to love soccer while attending matches in Europe, so sought out becoming a part of Sounders ownership wanting to bring similar experiences to the U.S. people. He isn't likely to make money on this investment, given past performance of soccer leagues in the U.S. and his revenue streams are elsewhere. The owners are not getting rich off of soccer - they were rich before they made the decision to get involved. This is true in other sports also: look at Balmer buying into NBA team for the crazy price of $2B. He spent any amount of $ because he wanted to own a team. Really, the only time the owners of any sports team make money is when they sell it. Of course they want to make the team and league better - why wouldn't you? The opposite, failure, isn't anyone's goal. The other statement I keep reading here - the player should go to the best league, and right now MLS is a 2nd choice is interesting. If the best home grown players keep leaving to sit on the bench for better teams, that's to their benefit? And if the best players keep leaving, then MLS becomes a better league how? Until some rising stars decide to make a sacrifice and stay here, MLs will continue to be a league of very young talent and ex-European players working towards retirement. When a few rising stars decide to stay here and prove it is good experience (by still also doing well on the USMNT against international comptition, which they can), they will be hailed as the heroes of US Soccer. As long as voices including the USMNT coaches continue to tell them to go elsewhere, we aren't really building US Soccer. The idea that someone like Klinsman should be setting the direction for US Soccer is even more bizarre to me than the tone here of damning the MLS and owners. No one sees the conflict of interest in telling young US talent to play for German teams, and a team that isn't good ("on the verge of relegation")? You should.

  22. Wooden Ships replied, January 17, 2016 at 5:04 p.m.

    Wes, I agree with you about owners not getting into it for the money exclusively. There are better investment strategies. I believe most, if not all, really appreciate the game. I also abhor the notion that wealthy successful individuals are greedy. We can accept that some individuals have no scruples or we can go the way we are trending now and remove incentive for industriousness. Punish the achievers-that will show them. Thank you public education.
    And, their is truth in your thoughts on staying with MLS. However, its the players call. Personally, at this moment in time, our top echelon of young talent is better served with foreign clubs, even receiving reduced minutes. The exposure/quality and competitiveness is invaluable compared to MLS. For now, and I realize its sort of dialectic at this point in time, our domestic league isn't sufficient enough to produce a World Cup level roster. Players from all countries aspire to play on the best teams in the best leagues, our best should be too.

  23. Ric Fonseca replied, January 18, 2016 at 1:56 p.m.

    Wes Strauss: Do you REALLY believe that the MLS owners aren't in it for the money? Maybe a couple or so, but please their bottom line is the dinero, the big bucks, though they seem to like spending money on players in their mid-thirties, over-the-hill types. Just read what is going on with the Carson Galaxy, having sold Omar Gonzalez and Juninho to LIGA MX, so they could free up some $$$ in order to bring in three players so they can bolster and support Keane & company! Mayube this is what it is all about, bring over really "older veterans" spend more money on them, while they go all the way to their piggy banks crying "wee-wee, all the way to the bank,"
    all at the expense of home-grown players that get paid a piddling sum. Just sayin'!!!

  24. Mark Buckley, January 18, 2016 at 8:38 a.m.

    The most lucrative Homegrown contract EVER! What is this young man thinking? The chance to play all your home games on carpet? It is a sad day for MLS. Sweet Creamery Butter*!

    *What was Garth Lagerwey's catch phase as a color commentator for DC United, Alex?

  25. BJ Genovese, January 18, 2016 at 1:15 p.m.

    He quite school and headed over seas... hes going to Werder Bremen.

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