RYAN BACIC - Monday, May 6, 2013
Five years ago, as some 40,000 body-painted, full-throat-singing, tifo-waving fans once again took over CenturyLink Field, an awestruck 13-year-old boy watched from the stands and took it all in.
"How cool would it be to play in a place like this?"
He might find out soon enough.
Now 18, forward Jordan Morris has blossomed into a goal-scoring machine with the Seattle Sounders youth set-up and, thanks to his strong academy performances, even earned a call from Tab Ramos for the most recent United States U20 national team camp in Southern California.
It's been a truly meteoric rise, then, for the Mercer Island, Wash. native, who only left his high school team to join the Sounders Academy last summer. For Morris, representing his country appeared to be - really up until it actually happened - a far-off dream.
"It's pretty unbelievable - I still can't really wrap my head around it," he told Yanks Abroad. "Two weeks ago, none of this was there, and then it all just popped up."
To Morris' credit, though, he certainly didn't crumble under the pressure. In fact, by all accounts, he instead thrived at the Home Depot Center, even without being able to feature at his most comfortable spot on the pitch.
Ramos, like current Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter with the U23s, implemented a free-flowing 4-3-3 formation upon taking over at the helm of the Stars and Stripes. But while such a system would theoretically open up another forward spot, Morris noted that playing as a winger up top in Carson required a definite modification of both his game and his way of thinking.
"I wasn't necessarily used to playing there," he said, explaining that he's typically a center forward in a 4-4-2 with his club team. "But the coaches were all really great in giving me the advice on how to play there, how to position my body both offensively and defensively, where I needed to be."
First national team camp and a new position wouldn't exactly seem to make for a great combination, but Morris thankfully had a friendly face along for the ride in fellow Seattle product DeAndre Yedlin.
The defender, who has started every game as a rookie for the cellar-dwelling Sounders, had made a strong case for himself as the U20s' starting right back at the World Cup in Turkey this summer.
Along with the big-time experience gained from participating in the academy playoffs, Morris said, it was Yedlin's poise and experience that went a long way toward helping him calm his nerves and get acclimated in such a high-stakes setting.
"I had never talked to [Yedlin] before, but I knew we were both going and I introduced myself on the plane ride down there," Morris said. "He's a great player, of course, but he's [also] a really genuine, nice person who really helped me. He knew some of the guys already, so he introduced me and just really helped me integrate myself into the team."
Pleasantries would hardly be Morris' obstacle, obviously, and he soon discovered that the difference between academy-level soccer and national-team level is substantial. It was the late bloomer's first U.S. camp at any age group, and Morris quickly realized that he'd have to turn things up a notch to hang with the rest of the team.
Concentration, he explained, was a big part of that: With everyone playing at such a high clip, there could not afford to be any lapses in judgment. But the second half of the newly converted winger's adjustment involved turning up his speedometer.
"When I got there, my focus just turned to another gear. And I think it has to. In a situation like that, a lot of them are professional soccer players [and] a lot of them are high-level college soccer players," Morris said. "I think that I used my pace to make an impression a little bit, because some of those guys are just so technically sound with the ball, [which isn't] so much a necessary part of my game. I tried to show them, as best I could, the highlights of my game."
Time will tell just how much of an impression Morris' game ended up making on Ramos and Co. One more U20 camp is all that stands between the players in the pool and a trip to the World Cup - or the chopping block.
For Morris, who said that he "wasn't super engaged" in the qualifying tournament back in February and March of this year, a spot in the final 23 would be quite the surprising feat.
With his recent success with the Sounders, though, has come interest not just from the U.S. but also from his parent club. A Stanford commit, Morris said that he and his parents place a high value on education, but there has reportedly been a bit of talk about bringing him in as Seattle's second-ever homegrown player, following once again in Yedlin's footsteps.
If he keeps playing as he did this past camp, those CenturyLink lights may indeed be calling him sooner rather than later. What's more, he also might just get the chance to study abroad before even starting college.