A promise made five years ago led to Jordan Morris boarding a flight to Wales to begin a European soccer career.
On Friday, the Sounders completed a loan for Morris to play for Swansea City A.F.C. of the English Championship League. The agreement will have Morris play for the Welsh side through the end of the EFL season, which goes through May, with an option to buy his rights at the end of the 2020-21 season.
Swansea plays Saturday but the earliest Morris could play — wearing jersey No. 11 — is Wednesday against Brentford at his new club’s Liberty Stadium. The Swans have 22 matches remaining. Potential playoffs and FA Cup competitions could add more to the schedule.
“It’s been a whirlwind week, but it is great to finally be here and have everything sorted out,” Morris told the team’s website. “It all started with the manager (coach Steve Cooper) calling me. It showed great respect for him to take the time to do that. The way he outlined the culture of the club and the dressing room atmosphere, it really appealed to me.
“I just felt this would be a great fit, he was really welcoming and spoke about how much he wanted me to come here, and it’s always nice to go somewhere you are wanted. It’s a huge honor to be here. I could also sense the passion the fans and the city have for this team, and a combination of all that made me know this was the right club for me.”
Morris, 26, was targeted by Cooper to help the club secure an automatic promotion to the English Premier League — England’s top-flight division. The Mercer Island native helped the Sounders become a two-time Major League Soccer champion.
While playing in a second-tier league may not seem ideal, it’s the totality of the experience and challenges in playing abroad that Morris spoke in December of wanting to try. He had an opportunity to sign with a Bundesliga club in 2016 but opted instead to ink a deal as a Homegrown Player with the Sounders, the club agreeing that when Morris felt ready to play in Europe, he would be encouraged and supported.
Garth Lagerwey, the Sounders general manager and president of soccer, told media Friday that teams in three different countries wanted Morris. Swansea had an inside track since new Sounders co-owner and president of business operations, Peter Tomozawa, is a minority investor in two Championship clubs — Swansea City and Barnsley.
“This is something Jordan wanted, his dream,” Lagerwey said. “This goes back to part of the reason he came to us instead of Werder Bremen. … the promise that this would be a relationship and this would be something where he would work for our best interest and we would work for his. There really wasn’t any hesitation on our part.”
There’s a lucrative benefit for the Sounders that Lagerwey said amounts to more than all of the loans and sales the club has undergone in the past combined. If Swansea and Morris agree to the buyout, the Sounders could net an approximate $10 million.
Part of the current payment is Swansea covering Morris’ entire MLS salary. The Sounders will also put $1 million back in salary cap as allocation money and the remainder is discretionary, potentially to reinvest in the team. Lagerwey can’t sign a Designated Player, however, because those spots are filled with forward Raul Ruidiaz and midfielders Nico Lodeiro and Joao Paulo.
Coupled with Sounders midfielder Henry Wingo being sold to Hungarian club Ferencvaros TC for a nearly $1 million transfer fee, the once cash strapped Sounders have options.
“Our plan that I talked about the last two months, it all changed,” Lagerwey said. “Two leprechauns landed, from a salary cap perspective, this week and I’ve got two bags of gold. We have to sort through exactly how much that’s going to be and some of the details there. But we do have some capacity now to do things.”
The Sounders plan to announce multiple signings next week, but none are a direct replacement for Morris. Lagerwey would like for the club to develop some of the youth talent while waiting to see how Morris performs overseas.
Over five years with the Sounders, Morris had 41 goals and 23 assists in 121 MLS appearances, including playoff matches, and was named to the league’s Best XI last season. He’s not guaranteed to start with Swansea.
“He has big ambitions to play in Europe and he had a lot of offers, so to think that we have got him is a really good thing,” Cooper told the team’s website. “He brings good technique, he is athletic, he is quick and brings a threat. He likes to create and score in those areas of the pitch and we are adding to our attacking threat. Having lost a couple of bodies at that end of the pitch, and to be able to do that with Jordan is very positive.”
Morris returning for the 2021 MLS season is unlikely even with the league possibly not starting until late spring due to contract negotiations with the Players Association. The sides met for the first time Friday.
The summer transfer window, which is set by FIFA, isn’t until July. That’s also when Morris is expected to join the USMNT for CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament, with the championship match slated for Aug. 1.
“I’m very proud of the player and professional that Jordan has become,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said in a news release. “He’s been a large part of this club’s success and has more than earned this opportunity to play his trade abroad. This particular move gives him a chance to showcase his skill set and opens a number options for his future. On top of that, I am excited to watch him play for Swansea.”