U.S. striker Jordan Morris seals deal with Seattle Sounders
The Seattle Sounders' pursuit of U.S. international forward Jordan Morris has finally paid off, with the Stanford University junior officially signing with the MLS club on Thursday.
The signing of Morris, 21, amounts to a massive coup for both the Sounders and MLS, given that he also drew interest from German club Werder Bremen.
"You know, honestly, since I was a little kid I knew I wanted to end up in Seattle," Morris told reporters on Thursday. "The opportunity opened up to go over to Germany and it was a really cool experience but my heart was kind of always in Seattle. I think going over there was fun but it kind of reaffirmed my decision that this is where I want to be."
Morris is a rising talent in the U.S. player pool and a key figure for the U.S. under-23 team, which faces Colombia in a two-game playoff in March with a spot in next summer's Olympics on the line.
He has also impressed in seven appearances with the senior national team, scoring his first international goal in a 2-0 victory over Mexico last April.
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Morris, a Seattle native, is a Sounders academy product, meaning the club had right of first refusal among MLS teams. As such, Seattle and MLS were so intent on acquiring Morris that they offered him the richest homegrown player contract in the league's history in November.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The LA Galaxy's Gyasi Zardes was the highest-paid homegrown player last season, making $150,000 in base salary and $223,000 in total compensation.
Seattle had to fend off interest from Bundesliga side Werder Bremen, who with the help of former Bremen player and current U.S. assistant Andi Herzog, took Morris on a 10-day trial.
The club was impressed with what it saw to the point that Bremen seemed on the verge of offering Morris a contract. But Morris has been leaning towards signing with his hometown team throughout much of the process, and ultimately decided that Seattle was the best place to start his professional career.
When Bremen announced on Tuesday that Morris would not be signing a contract, his path to joining the Sounders was clear.
"The past week has been a little crazy, a lot going on, but all good stuff obviously," Morris said. "I'm thankful for both opportunities. But yeah, I was just over there, and kind of just like 'This isn't necessarily where I want to be right now.' I called my parents and we had a talk and I was like, like I said, it definitely reaffirmed my decision that I want to be in Seattle. My heart was in Seattle.
"So I sat down with them and said this is what I want to do. Of course I'm thankful to Bremen for letting me come over. Just really felt in my heart that this was the right decision and the right place to be and I'm really excited. I look forward to the season and I'm thankful to these guys right here for bringing me on."
Seattle general manager Garth Lagerwey said the Sounders did not change its offer after Bremen's interest.
"As I joked in the press conference, this was the worst negotiation of my career," Lagerway said. "I read [his father] Dr. Morris the rules and I said 'Look, this is everything I can pay you. I'll do everything I can to find more but this is all I got.' We did that early in the process. Nothing's really changed since then but we wanted to put our best foot forward.
"We knew Jordan was the player we wanted. We knew we were willing to commit those resources and we really didn't see any reason to tiptoe or dance around it. We really thought our best chance was if we put our best offer on the table from the get-go, and then stick with it. And that's what we did.
"Ultimately, Jordan chose to sign with the Sounders and I'm absolutely positive it wasn't for the money. It was because he wants to be here and that's the most important thing. And I think that bodes well for Jordan and for the Sounders."
In addition to his duties with the Olympic team, Morris has also represented the U.S. at the under-20 level. But Morris really caught eye of U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann when he scored in a training match for Stanford against the U.S. during the team's preparations for the 2014 World Cup.
Morris made his full international debut in a friendly against Ireland the following November, and the interest in where he would start his professional career has increased from there.
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The public perception is that Klinsmann would have preferred that Morris sign with a club from overseas, but in an exclusive interview with ESPN FC on Wednesday, Klinsmann gave the move his blessing.
"I'm thrilled that Jordan decided to go pro," said Klinsmann. "This is the really important decision. And I'm thrilled with the Sounders, that he goes into an environment that he knows, that he feels comfortable with, and that he feels now that, 'At this specific point in time, this is the best move for me.'"
Morris said he was grateful for Klinsmann's input.
"I was in contact with Jurgen throughout the whole process and he was very supportive," he said. "I'm obviously super-thankful for everything he's done for me. He's been great."
Morris has been a standout at Stanford over the course of three seasons. He led the Cardinal to the 2015 national championship, scoring 13 goals in 18 appearances along the way. Morris also claimed the 2015 MAC Hermann award, given to top collegiate player in the country. Morris finished his Stanford career with 23 goals and 16 assists in 54 appearances.
He was the first active college player to play for the U.S. senior squad since Ante Razov in 1995.
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid will now have to figure out how to make room for four skillful forwards as Morris joins the ranks of Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and Nelson Valdez.
"Obviously for us, any time we can add a good player, that's the most important thing that we're trying to do," Schmid said. "Jordan is a forward who can run on the flanks, a forward that can sometimes get himself into wide spaces. We're probably going to go more with a three-pronged attack this year as well, so there will be plenty of opportunities to play amongst those three."
Information from ESPN FC's Doug McIntyre was used in this report.