There might not be two more divisive players in the United States men's national team player pool than Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan. For as good as they’ve both been for the Seattle Sounders, their regular inclusion in World Cup qualifying rosters almost always raises hackles among a certain segment of the fanbase.
Both players have once again been called into the upcoming USMNT training camp, one of just two camps Gregg Berhalter will hold before he finalizes his World Cup roster. The USA will also play four matches — friendlies against Morocco and Uruguay and Nations League matches against Grenada and El Salvador.
While most observers seem to think that both Morris and Roldan have a pretty good chance of making that roster, there’s also a pretty clear sense that they are among the “bubble” players for the plane to Qatar.
Following Sunday’s Sounders game against Charlotte FC, I asked both about their mindset.
Morris has been involved with the USMNT since even before he signed his first professional contract with the Sounders, famously scoring in his first career start against Mexico. Since then, he’s enjoyed a reasonable degree of USMNT success. He now has 42 caps in which he’s scored six goals and assisted on four others. But the last of those goals came in a 2019 friendly against Uruguay. Most of that scoring drought can be chalked up to the Covid-19 pandemic and injuries — he’s made only two starts since then — but he’s keenly aware that he must produce in order to retain his spot.
“Of course, that’s in the back of everyone’s head — you want to be on the World Cup, but you try not to put too much pressure on yourself,” Morris said. “Especially trying to score goals, it’s going to weigh you down too much. You just have to keep pushing. It’s a really exciting year for everyone.”
Morris is currently in the midst of coming back from his second ACL injury since 2018. Although he’s scored six goals in all competitions this year — including a header in Sunday’s match — he knows that he can still be sharper.
“I’m the first to admit that I’m not clean enough and I need to continue to improve,” he said. “I’m creating a lot of chances and getting myself into the right spots, so the movement’s there. It’s just the final product, whether it’s playing a ball across to Raúl [Ruidíaz] or Cristian or finishing myself, I just need to be cleaner. That’s something I’m coming back from. It’s something that will continue to come.”
Working in Morris’ favor is that he’s one of the fastest attacking players in the pool, and he fits neatly into Berhalter’s desire to gain “verticality.”
Roldan’s role in the USMNT is not quite as clear. He’s played mostly as a right-sided attacker over the last few seasons for the Sounders — already tallying 3 goals and 10 assists across all competitions this year — but is predominantly used as one of two 8s in Berhalter’s preferred 4-3-3 formation.
Roldan has 31 caps, but just 11 starts, and only logged 80 minutes in five appearances during the qualifying cycle despite being called into every camp. Berhalter seems to put a lot of value in just having Roldan around, however, and has praised his mentality and willingness to work with younger players.
“We’re all professionals and I feel like I can help and make an impact on the field,” Roldan said. “That’s why my attitude is great when I go into camp. I feel like I can still help the team moving forward. If I don’t see the field, I’ll be the hardest working player in practice and show that I care a lot about making the squad.”
Although it’s often used as a cudgel against him, Roldan embraces his role as a sort of player-coach, something players like Weston McKennie particularly appreciate.
“I feel like I understand the system really well and feel like Gregg feels that way as well,” Roldan said. “Any way that I can help Weston — sometimes it’s tough to speak to a player as a coach and for some reason, it’s easier in the locker room — whenever the game is being played, I’m watching Weston, I’m watching Yunus [Musah] to see what they can do and how to help them, how to be a resource. If I can help 1 percent more, I want to see these guys succeed and see the team succeed even if I’m not on the field. Putting yourself second and trying to help the guys out in any way that I can.”