Jordan Morris, Jurgen Klinsmann and the Future of MLS

To sign or not to sign, that is Jordan Morris’s question. The Stanford sophomore now regularly receives call-ups to the USMNT, and Morris is clearly primed to move past his collegiate career.

Once upon a time, a top American soccer prospect like Morris would be eyeing a contract in a lesser European league like Landon Donovan or Alexi Lalas before him.

With the advent of MLS, ambitions Americans had a local springboard to opportunities across the pond. The Clint Dempseys and Tim Howards of yesteryear followed this path and found real success amongst the best leagues in Europe.

Now MLS is at a crossroads. The league has gained real legitimacy and clout and strives to be a “league of destination.” Clint Dempsey is back. Salaries are up. TV deals are hefty and expansion is rampant. So what is up with Jordan Morris?

Unlike DeAndre Yedlin, Sean Okoli, Aaron Kovar and, presumably, Darwin Jones, Morris is one successful collegian not chomping to sign an MLS contract. The Sounders would sign Morris to a homegrown contract in a redhot minute. Leading us to presume that the only reason this won’t happen immediately upon the termination of the NCAA tournament (which starts this weekend and runs until December 14th) is that Morris is considering skipping the Sounders and jumping right to Europe. Which would be quite a blow to not only the Sounders, but also MLS in general. And if Morris does so, I am sure he is drinking the Jurgen Klinsmann Kool-Aid.

As has been oft-discussed, USMNT coach Klinsmann has little respect for MLS and has slowly been creating a rift between himself and MLS commissioner Don Garber. Klinsmann’s been running his mouth about the quality of MLS and its inability to develop players. He was not impressed with Dempsey and Michael Bradley’s decisions to return to the league and he publically admonished Bradley, saying MLS was hurting his career. Garber was heated and, to some criticism, quickly issued a press release touting the league while denigrating Klinsmann. Jordan Morris is why.

If a highly talented young American like Morris will forgo one of MLS’s marquee clubs for a shot at toiling in a lesser European league, MLS is back at square one. It would be a staunch rebuke to a league clawing its way to legitimacy. If the perception exists that our domestic league cannot develop our most talented players, than American is truly still a soccer backwater. Seattle Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer clearly wants to sign Morris, and talented young locals like him to his club. Any slight, or appearance of slight to the domestic league directly affects him. He recently said:

“We are investing millions of dollars in youth development. It’s hard enough to compete with foreign teams who are trying to poach players in the U.S. and Canada. I’m certainly not happy if our federation and its representatives are in any way pushing our players to sign with a foreign club and bypassing our professional environment.”

Our federation, specifically Klinsmann, seems to be pushing players away. Klinsmann is especially taken with Morris. He recently said, “We see something special in him” in response to Morris maybe playing against Ireland in todays friendly. God knows if Klinsmann is specifically telling Morris to forgo MLS for Europe, but the two have clearly talked about the youngster’s career path. Klinsmann discussed Morris’s future with ESPNFC back in September, saying “He has the choice now to say, ‘OK, am I jumping on the Sounders track in January, or am I considering another year, or am I considering maybe even going to Europe?’ He has those pieces on the table that he can discuss with his family and his dad and with his coaches to hopefully make the right decision for him. “

Klinsmann is the coach of the USMNT and keeping the MLS talent pipeline open isn’t his job. However after Deuce and Bradley made it cool for Americans to play in MLS again, and after Klinsmann himself roster a record 10 MLS players for the 2014 World Cup, Morris skipping out on the Sounders could be a major blow. The news has been nothing but good around MLS and soccer in the US in general, but Morris’s single decision could reverse a lot of positive momentum.

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