By Paul Kennedy
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."
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.