The Seattle Sounders officially unveiled Mercer Island native Jordan Morris as a Homegrown Player signing on Thursday morning at the team clubhouse in Pioneer Square.
The Seattle Sounder that almost got away descended 27 stairs and took eight confident strides before he reached the raised platform, completing a journey a decade in the making.
Mercer Island native and U.S. national team member Jordan Morris was unveiled as Seattle’s newest Homegrown Player signing on Thursday morning at the team’s fan clubhouse in Pioneer Square.
Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer called the club’s highest-profile signing since the Clint Dempsey deal a “10-year process.” He harkened back to Morris’ father’s connection with the USL-era Sounders as the team physician, a position Michael still holds with the club.
“It’s more than just a player signing,” Hanauer said. “It’s someone who has grown up in the Sounders family.”
Thursday was full of flashbacks to a less-heralded Jordan Morris, the local kid who barely earned U-20 national team looks, let alone first-team call-ups. Hanauer recalls a corkscrew header against the rival Timbers in a reserve-league match. Schmid remembers catching his first glimpse of Morris while with the academy team.
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“I noticed Jordan outside of his relationship with his father,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “There was just something in his game.”
Schmid pulled aside former Sounders coach and club ambassador Alan Hinton and asked him to take a close look at the youth team. Hinton’s eye was drawn toward the same kid – yes, he reported back to Schmid, we’ve got something here.
Within a few years, United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann saw it, too. After Morris scored against Mexico last April as the first college kid to earn a national team start since the 1990s, clubs in the European big leagues also started poking around.
Staying in school
Morris returned to train at the Sounders facility on breaks from Stanford. Seattle tested his commitment to the Cardinal every six months or so, offering him professional contracts after both his freshman and sophomore seasons.
Morris kept the Sounders at an arm’s length, driven by what he calls “unfinished business” with the Cardinal and the comforts of the collegiate bubble. Stanford captured its first-ever national title in December and Morris won the Hermann Trophy as the best player in Division I.
“I don’t necessarily know if I agreed with his decision to go back to school for his junior year,” Schmid said. “… Before he played the national championship game, I told him he was right and I was wrong.”
Morris got to soak in the accomplishments for all of 24 hours.
“I took that next day to relax,” Morris said. “The next day, I was making phone calls and texting people and figuring out what to do.”
Seattle had already offered Morris the richest Homegrown Player contract in MLS history – bettering both Tommy Thompson’s $140,000 base contract with San Jose and Gyasi Zardes’ $173,000 in initial guaranteed compensation with the Galaxy.
The Sounders had played their hand. And general manager Garth Lagerwey said their offer, of which the exact figures were not disclosed per league and club policy, never budged upward.
“We weren’t negotiating,” Lagerwey said. “It was as high as I could make it.”
Morris never publically deviated from his plan to get reasonably close to his college degree before starting his pro career in Seattle. Word that he would join Werder Bremen during its winter training camp in Turkey sent a different message.
“It caught us a little by surprise,” Hanauer admitted. “But it shouldn’t have, I suppose. And shame on us for being surprised, because he was going to get offers.
“It definitely put off my golf game for a couple of weeks.”
To hear Morris speak at the news conference on Thursday, his ultimate destination was never in doubt. Home, heart and family were all buzzwords, and he described himself as a “homebody” at least a half-dozen times throughout the afternoon. His mother, Leslie, and his older brothers Christopher and Julian all joined him atop the Space Needle for a Thursday afternoon photo shoot, the four of them cheesing for group shots.
U.S. Soccer culture war
But there is an alternate universe where Morris is less put off by the language barrier, where he’s so blown away by Bremen’s soccer culture that he decided to test his luck in a Bundesliga relegation fight instead. Morris had told Klinsmann — who helped set up the trial — that he’d give Germany a legitimate shot, and he meant it.
“I always knew that Seattle was an option,” Morris said. “Then the opportunity arose to go to Germany, and I thought that’d be a really cool experience to see what it was like. Either I go over there and love it and I can stay, or if not, I can go over there and come back with more of a clear conscience that this is what I want to do.”
A number of USMNT teammates reached out with advice. Former Sounder DeAndre Yedlin could relate to a fellow Seattle native considering an overseas move, as well as the stakes involved. Morris remembered how content Jozy Altidore looked following his return to MLS from England, how much being close to family lifted his spirits.
Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando reached out to Morris on social media towards the end of his stint with Bremen, and the gist of his message stuck.
“’It’s up to you. It’s your life. It’s your journey,’” Morris relayed.
Unsolicited advice flooded in from outside of the close-knit national team ranks, as well. Morris had become an unwitting proxy in the U.S. Soccer culture war, a litmus test for the relevancy of MLS, another player to be lauded or written off depending on which side of the pond he chose.
“I never really thought there would be people talking about me like that,” Morris said. “It’s been tough for my mom, honestly, because she reads everything on Twitter. I used to do that. … It’s stuff you’ve got to ignore and let go. People are going to have their opinions, but the only ones that matter are the people close to you.”
Bremen offered Morris a contract, and though some interpreted it as a sign of Seattle’s demise, the player had actually already made up his mind. Morris called his parents first with his decision, then texted Schmid, who had checked in after hearing about the contract offer.
“I told him I didn’t want to sign (in Germany),” Morris said. “I’m excited to be a Sounder. I’m going to come back and sign here.”
He boarded a plane out of Frankfurt bound for Seattle by way of San Francisco, landing at SeaTac late Wednesday night. He drove to the Sounders clubhouse in Pioneer Square in the morning, eyes still a little bleary.
Morris walked down 27 steps and took eight more confident strides, completing his long journey home.
“I went over there and realized this is where I want to be, in Seattle,” Morris said. “This is where my heart’s at. … I really believed that it was going to lead me here. I just needed to figure out the timing.”