It has been more than four years since Jordan Morris decided to forego interest in Germany and sign with his hometown Seattle Sounders. That decision was met by predictably mixed results. For fans and observers of the United States national team, it was something hopelessly conservative at best and something akin to career malfeasance at worst. For anyone remotely associated with the Sounders, it was a sensible decision for a player who had previously thrived in his comfort zone.
You’d be excused for thinking that this should no longer be a real issue, especially after Morris’ breakout 2019 campaign in which he’s established himself as arguably the best American attacker in MLS and has emerged as one of the USMNT’s most productive players on the international stage.
Unfortunately, you’d be mistaken. As recently as a few days before MLS Cup, Morris was asked about his decision. (Morris, as you’d probably expect, said he had “zero regrets.”) Listen to any number of soccer podcasts, and you’ll hear the common joke about Morris choosing to stay in Seattle because of his new dog. Don’t even dare mention that Morris’ decision has been vindicated on Twitter unless you want an avalanche of naysayers.
Putting aside the success Morris has had with the Sounders — two MLS Cups, a Rookie of the Year and a Comeback Player of the Year — I think there’s a valid argument to be made that the decision has worked out just as well for the USMNT.
Although the popular narratives seems to be that Morris has not excelled when with the national team, the numbers tell a distinctly different story. In a little less than 1,700 minutes with the senior national team, Morris has eight goals and eight assists. That works out to .85 goals+assists per 90 minutes. Christian Pulisic — oftentimes held up as the counter-example for Morris — has a comparable ga90 of .91. I’ve not attempted to see how this measures against every USMNT player ever, but both are ahead of the country’s top three all-time scorers Landon Donovan (.83), Clint Dempsey (.63) and Jozy Altidore (.63).
Top USMNT performers
Notably, most of Morris’ production has come in competitive matches where he’s registered six goals and six assists in less than 1,000 minutes. His production in friendlies has come mostly against relatively stout competition, as well. His two friendly goals are against Mexico and Uruguay and he’s got an assist against Netherlands.
Pulisic’s production, too, is mostly in competitive matches where he’s got 11 goals and 10 assists in 1,627 minutes.
The point, though, is not to make a qualitative comparison between Morris and Pulisic. Pulisic recently commanded a $70 million transfer fee and has been performing at Champions League-caliber clubs. I have no doubt he’s the better talent and most likely will have the more impressive career when all is said and done.
Rather, I point out their USMNT production to illustrate that despite Morris missing virtually a whole year to injury and playing his club soccer in MLS that he’s managed to be just about as productive as the player most consider to be the best in the pool and maybe the most talented of all-time.
I also think there’s a valid argument to be made that Morris’ career is in a better place precisely because he chose the Sounders rather than going straight to Germany. I say this because I’m not at all convinced that if Morris had struggled the way he did at the start of his rookie year that he’d continued to get minutes at a club like Werder Bremen, who was stuck in a relegation battle when Morris was on trial there. I’m equally skeptical he’d have been allowed to work through the struggles he experienced in 2017 or received the type of support he received in 2018 when he suffered his ACL injury. It’s obviously possible that Morris would have never experienced those struggles if he’d gone to Germany, but that seems to strain credibility at the very least.
I suppose it’s possible that Morris could have developed at a more advanced clip in Germany — or maybe even at a similar clip — but is there any reason to believe he’d be performing better than Pulisic?
None of which even begins to address that Morris seems perfectly content with how well his decision has aged nor has the door done anything like closed on a potential move to Europe. I suspect that the Sounders are going to start getting inquires about Morris soon — if they haven’t already — and would fully expect him to leave if he’s able to build off what was already an impressive 2019 campaign.
I’m not naive enough to think that any of this will actually convince the most vocal Morris-truthers — who seem to see him as more of a symbol of their frustrations than the source of them. I do, however, hope this allows people to see his career in a more nuanced way and maybe recognize that while playing at top European clubs is an admirable goal, every player is not necessarily best served by going there at first chance. MLS continues to be a perfectly viable place for USMNT players to grow, develop and thrive and there’s no reason we need to insist on a one-size-fits-all path.