It was a quite a ride -- especially over the past couple weeks -- but the Seattle Sounders have finally completed the longest courtship in their history. Jordan Morris officially joined the Sounders on Thursday, ending a pursuit that was at least three years in the making and seemed all but lost as recently as a couple days ago.
Of course, it took a bit longer to get here than it originally seemed it would. After Morris led Stanford to the College Cup and just before he was named the college soccer's best player, he surprised no one by choosing to end his amateur career. Instead of signing with the Sounders straightaway, though, Morris opted to go on trial with Bundesliga club Werder Bremen at the behest of United States national team coaches. Throughout the 10-day trial, reports were rampant that Morris was impressing and Werder Bremen brass even expressed confidence about getting the 21-year-old signed.
But as he did repeatedly by turning down the Sounders' earlier Homegrown Player offers, Morris again surprised most of the soccer world by signing with his hometown team. The Sounders were only too happy to give him the richest HGP contract in league history.
Chances are, Morris will make somewhere in the neighborhood of $200,000 during his rookie season, most of which will come from the $125,000 increase in HGP money MLS made available to teams this year. To put that in perspective, none of the Sounders' other six HGP signings made even made a third that much.
Morris is a very different player than his predecessors, though. Among the 21-year-old's accomplishments are seven senior national team caps, an appearance in a World Cup qualifier and a winning goal against Mexico, as well as a host of other achievements at the college and youth national team levels.
Morris is the first collegian since the start of MLS to earn consistent looks with the national team, and he left school on about as high of a note as possible. Morris capped off his Cardinal career by scoring a brace in the College Cup final to give Stanford their first-ever men's soccer national championship. Morris also won the MAC Hermann Trophy, was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year and led the Cardinal to a conference championship while scoring 13 goals in just 18 matches.
Even before then, Morris' star has been rising for quite some time.
The Mercer Island boy burst onto the scene when he left Eastside FC and joined the Sounders Academy for his senior year (2012-13), promptly scoring 28 goals in 32 academy matches and being named USSDA player of the year. It was such a strong performance that he almost certainly could have signed a Homegrown Player contract then, but with a scholarship to Stanford already in hand he opted for school.
The following summer Morris finally broke into the youth national scene when he was named to the United States U-20 team in the Toulon Tournament where he made three appearances. It was a chance training-ground performance when the United States World Cup team was scrimmaging against Morris' Stanford team in the summer of 2014 that forever changed his career arc and got him onto Jurgen Klinsmann's radar. Despite facing off against some of our country's best players, Morris held his own and even scored a goal.
Morris got his first senior national-team call-up during a post-World Cup friendly against the Czech Republic. Although he didn't play, it was the first time a college player had earned a spot on a USMNT roster since 1999. Morris made his USMNT debut the following November in a friendly against Ireland, the first time an active collegian had made a senior national team appearance since 1997.
The hype really started to build on April 25, 2015. That's when Morris got his first USMNT start, against none other than arch-rival Mexico. Morris played reasonably well in the first half, but made sure to put his stamp on the game when he pounced on a loose ball and blasted in past the Mexico goalkeeper. It proved to be the winning goal.
Just a couple weeks later, Morris followed up that performance by setting up the game-winner in an epic comeback against The Netherlands in Amsterdam.
Ever since those two appearances, Morris has become about as well known as any USMNT prospect and the pressure to turn professional has been almost relentless. Morris has been the subject of full-length features in Howler, SI.com and two in Grantland. He's even been a guest on Men in Blazers. It's the kind of attention no amateur American soccer player has received since the days of the Freddy Adu-hype machine. That was all before the Werder Bremen trial when the American soccer press reported on virtually every development, despite almost all of it requiring translating software.
Part of what makes Morris so compelling is how he has handled it all. Morris, the son of the Sounders' team doctor, somehow managed to both accept and refuse to be consumed by the attention, deftly straddling the line between accessible and ostentatious. Part of that is surely due to his status as an amateur playing a relatively low-profile collegiate sport, but it's also just his low-key personality. Morris is the rare athlete who can sound intelligent and humble without being completely boring.
Despite all the attention and a third contract offer from the Sounders, Morris chose to return to Stanford for his junior season. After missing most of preseason due to spending time with the U23 team -- and scoring three goals during Olympic qualifying -- Morris slipped back into the college game almost seamlessly. Over Stanford's final six matches, Morris scored five goals and had an assist as the Cardinal went 5-0-1 on their way to winning the biggest prize in college soccer.
That all helped set up his trial with Werder Bremen. Morris immediately impressed the technical staff and drew rave reviews while he trained with the team in Turkey. Morris joined the club when they returned to Germany and he registered an impressive assist in a scrimmage, at which point the Werder Bremen sporting director made it sound as if a signing was imminent.
On Tuesday, though, there was an about-face. Suddenly, Werder Bremen was no longer pursuing Morris. To those who followed Morris over the years, his decision to join the Sounders is not shocking. He's been saying this has been his dream for several years and his ties to the team go back to his childhood, when his dad first starting working for the USL team.
There are few who doubt Morris' ability to contribute almost immediately. Whether he actually gets that chance will go a long way toward determining whether or not this was a good move. Morris is still just 21 and will be competing for a spot on either the Olympic or Copa America teams, while also battling for minutes on the club level with the likes of Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, Nelson Valdez and Andreas Ivanschitz, all decorated professionals with impressive national-team resumes.
As much as some have made this out to be the "easy" path for Morris, there will be no shortages of challenges in Seattle. How Morris handles being a hometown star is just one of them. Luckily, we'll get a front-row seat to watch it unfold.