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Steve Zakuani: Jordan Morris can be top “two or three” winger in MLS

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The analyst knows exactly what he would tell the HGP about how to get there.

Max Aquino/Sounder at Heart

So far in 2017, Jordan Morris has three starts for the Seattle Sounders on the left wing. In those games he has a single goal, while his teammates have scored five. Those are the positives from the switch. But not everything about it has been positive. For example, Morris has not registered a single dribble or cross at his new position (according to Opta stats via WhoScored).

It is pretty clear that Jordan Morris is not a perfect winger. It’s a role that the Seattle Sounders have tried to fill effectively for most of their time in MLS. Most of their wide players have been lower quality versions of Nicolas Lodeiro that tend to dive into central positions rather than hugging the line. Their best “winger” of all time remains Steve Zakuani.

But Zakuani himself thinks that Jordan Morris can be as good (relative to MLS today) as Steve was to the 2010-11 seasons. But there are a few things that Morris needs to change, said Zakuani. Some minute and technical, others more about attitude.

“There’s so many things that I see in his game as a winger - if he could develop that...he’s already one of the best strikers in the league,” Zakuani told Locked on Sounders. “He can easily be one of the top two or three wingers in the league without question. He has the skills. I wish at some point I can sit down and talk to him. I probably will.”

That conversation would be to follow up on one that Steve and Jordan had shortly after the LA win.

“He’d just been moved out wide by Schmetz this season and I said ‘did you like the wing?’ and he said ‘a lot better than being the number 9 by myself.’ I agree with that. Jordan by himself up top where it’s more back to goal, it’s not his game,” Zakuani said. “With a strike partner in a 4-4-2, or something like that with two up top, he would be great up top. If he’s going to be up top by himself I prefer him on the wing, because he can get the ball more facing and going towards goal.”

Morris offers the speed that Zakuani had (some of the failed winger experiments came close as well). “I think he might be faster [than me] without the ball,” Zakuani declares. But it’s the hunger and attitude side of Morris’ game that Steve wants to help develop.

“Some right backs now, especially with the way the game is played, they like to get up. And the way it was for me, and I’m sure with Jordan it is the same, is tracking back defensively for that right back. The way to stop that is to pin him back. That’s more the mentality where ‘I’m going to go and go and go.’ I get the ball at least three or four times and I’m coming back a fifth time. That’s the mentality that Jordan has to develop.”

Steve Zakuani also wants to see a Jordan Morris that gets greedy. There has been a shift towards that mentality in Darlington Nagbe’s play recently that inspired Zakuani. Nagbe and Zakuani are good friends from their time at the University of Akron. He said that a greedy Morris is one that makes the challenging move to dribble past the fullback rather than choose the simple pass to Clint Dempsey or Lodeiro at the top of the 18.

Some of Morris’ struggles out wide may be related to a persistent ankle injury that he just can’t shake. At times last year, Jordan “Winger” Morris looked brilliant - Zakuani noted his low cross to Nico in the playoffs against Dallas as one of his best moments.

The second most successful winger in Sounders history was probably Lamar Neagle, who had two seasons as the third wheel in the Oba-Clint dynasty. Neagle’s game was often to stick wide until he could pounce inside, surprise the defense, and get a goal or an assist.

Morris on the wing is probably more Neagle than Zakuani, but Neagle with elite speed, more core strength, better finishing skills, and a right foot that can pass as well as a left.

But Morris is not going to beat guys with a step-over. “Where we are different though, is he’s still a striker first,” Zakuani explained. “I was a pure winger. I was step-overs; I was cut left and cut right; I was that. He’s not quite like that, but what he does have is in that final third he’s willing to face you one-on-one, push it by you and get a low dangerous cross in. If he develops that mentality thinking like a winger he’s going to be top two or three in this league.”

Steve was raised on the wing, and it still took him a year to figure it out in MLS. Morris does not have a year. His improvement there needs to be swift. But the payoff could be worthwhile. With a little bit of coaching on which types of runs to make and that shift in mentality, Zakuani thinks Morris belongs in the conversation with Villalba, Harrison, Quioto and other top MLS wingers that generally live on the touchline.

As a winger he could be a 12-14 goal scorer with 5-8 assists. As a forward that’s probably something like 16+ goals but only 2-4 assists. Where Morris plays will not necessarily change his value, but instead gives his teammates more space and the front office a clear direction about what type of talent to add with the available Designated Player spot.