Love them or hate them, Alexi Lalas and Taylor Twellman know what it's like to be a promising, young American soccer player. They've experienced this as players and as commentators. So it made sense to get their reactions to Jordan Morris finally deciding to join the Sounders. Here's what the former ESPN colleagues told Sounder at Heart.
How quickly do you feel Morris can become a real contributor at the pro level?
Lalas: Immediately. Obviously there will be an adjustment period (physically and mentally) to a professional environment, but he's coming in with some valuable tools and experience that other young/inexperienced players often don't have.
Twellman: Very quickly. The experience he’s gotten at the international level is so valuable. However in saying that, he will for the first time in his life be a professional playing the game in a 9/10 month season.
When he hits a wall how does the team accommodate him and get him back to his strengths as quickly as possible. Fitness is a huge part for him because as explosive as he is, he doesn’t dominate games and looks to disappear at times. … Fitness is his biggest area of improvement needed.
What kind of ceiling do you believe he has?
Lalas: He can be twice the player he is. I think he can become a consistent attacking threat if/when he harnesses his speed and attaches it to more smart and efficient running. That comes with time but if it happens then he will become feared rather than simply noticed.
Twellman: Never like doing this and quite frankly it's pointless because how many would have had Clint Dempsey where he is today?! Make no mistake, Jordan can play and he has that natural instinct in the final third but so many factors will play a factor in his career: injuries, desire, club choices, etc.
Which players do you feel he most closely resembles in terms of style?
Lalas: He reminds me at times of a mixture of Abel Balbo, Josh Wolf, Mark Hughes and Adam Cristman. He's not really traditionally graceful but he moves with intent and he always seems to be scheming.
What do you think makes him different from other players who broke into USMNT at a relatively young age?
Lalas: Nothing. Some break in early and some take time, or never break it. As with most things in life, it's often timing and situation married with ability and luck. Klinsmann likes him and gave him the chance. A National Team selection is rooted is personal preference from a coach. There very well may be other young college players who could have succeeded if Klinsmann had taken a liking to them. But to Morris' credit, he grabbed the opportunity with both hands and hasn't let go. I love that about him. Now, like many young prospects before him, he will had to live up to the hype and maybe some unreasonable expectations. But that's the price for turning heads at a young age.
Twellman: Explosive off the mark, ability to not lose his self control in the key moments in the final third. Instincts are very very good in the attack and something that will only get better with more high level training and better coaching.
What part of the pro game do you think he'll most struggle with?
Lalas: The first time the goals dry up and the fans, media and his teammates start to question if he's the real deal. The size, speed and talent will be easier to adapt to than the mental tricks that failure at a higher level can play on you. That's when we'll see what he's made of.
Twellman: "Thinking the game" when defenses have done their work in getting him off his game. He's a smart kid and no doubt he will figure it out but it hasn’t happened yet for him where he needs to be able to "find the game" and give the defenses something else to look for. Fitness is another aspect that I’d love to see him improve immensely on.
Do you think turning pro with Seattle was the best choice for his career?
Lalas: If he plays. If we look at him in terms of the USMNT, then I don't know what the benifits are to bringing him along slowly. But is he going to play over Oba and Deuce? I guess it's up to him to prove that, regardless of the inexperience, Seattle needs him on the field. Times change and I'd love to see him edge out a guy like Oba or Deuce. That would be a huge statement and show that it's not just about potential but a changing of the guard. I just hope that Klinsmann doesn't change his view on him because of the decision, because that positive view is what has gotten so many people talking about him over the last two years.
Twellman: ONLY if he plays. He along with Matt Miazga are vital players in the USMNT pool right now and it's so important for their progression they continue to play. Morris bypassing a once-in-a-lifetime deal in Germany is a huge get for Seattle and MLS but he must play.
Does he have to play in Europe in order to reach his full potential?
Lalas: No. The American soccer community loves to project our insecurities upon players and saddle them with our definition of what is the proper way to become a quality player. There is no right way. There is nothing that says Morris can't become the greatest player the US has ever produced playing in MLS. There is also nothing to say that he can't utterly fail as a pro in MLS. But whether he succeeds or fails, it won't be because of MLS, it will be because of him.
Twellman: No but it's not a fair question for every player. Dempsey needed to play in Europe to reach his but did Donovan? To each his own and so much of "reaching your potential" of a player boils down to that player wanting it and improving each and every day. MLS is good for some while Europe is important for others. I will say this though, if Jordan uses MLS to get to Russia ’18 then move on as a player that is a huge feather in the cap of MLS.