Just 16 months ago, Jordan Morris stood before his classmates at Mercer Island High School, celebrating his graduation as his family and friends looked on with pride. In September, he was called onto a different stage, and this time the entire world was watching.
This fall, the 19-year-old former Eastside FC and current Stanford University forward earned his first-ever call-up to the U.S. Men's National Team, joining Jozy Altidore, Fabian Johnson, Alejandro Bedoya and a number of other U.S. stars of the 2014 FIFA World Cup for the squad's first game of the 2018 World Cup cycle, a friendly in Prague against the Czech Republic. Morris was the first college player ever called into the National Team by Klinsmann, and he became the first college player to make a USMNT roster in nearly 20 years, dating back to 1995, one year before the start of Major League Soccer.
The Mercer Island native captained Eastside FC to third place at the US Youth Soccer National Championships in 2011 and 2012, earning the Golden Ball as the tournament's top scorer in '12, and captured a US Youth Soccer National League title in the same year. After leading Eastside FC to three consecutive US Youth Soccer Washington State Championships, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound forward joined the Sounders Academy for the 2012-13 season, scoring 27 goals in 28 games during his senior year at Mercer Island. Morris scored six goals and led all Pac-12 players with seven assists in 2013, and was preparing for his second season with the Cardinal when he received the news from Klinsmann.
“I couldn’t really believe it. I had to pinch myself,” Morris told The Sporting News. “The first reaction was, ‘I can’t really believe this is happening.’ It’s been a dream of mine for a while, since I was a little kid. My brother and I were in the backyard playing like we were national-team guys. It was surreal.”
One coach who knows Morris as well as anyone, Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid, who has followed Morris' development at Eastside FC and in the Washington Youth Soccer Elite Player Development Program (EPD) closely for the last several years, wasn't surprised at all. Schmid compared Morris to fellow Washington Youth Soccer EPD alum DeAndre Yedlin, noting that both were talented young players who blossomed in the state's developmental pipeline.
“Jordan is a good player," Schmid says. “He’s a slasher. He can play wide, he can play up top, he can play as one of the two strikers in a two-man formation. He’s comfortable on both sides of the field and keeps pressure on defenses because he’s willing to make those runs in behind. I think it’s a tribute to our academy and to the players of Washington state, who continue to develop.”
Morris reportedly caught the eye of Klinsmann during the run-up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup, when the USMNT was training at Stanford and scrimmaging regularly against the Cardinal squad. As he crafted the roster for the Czech Republic game with an eye toward 2018, the young forward was front and center in his mind.
"We have watched Jordan for the last couple of years, and he is a very promising player," Klinsmann told USSoccer.com. "I had a long talk with Jordan, his dad, and his coach, before making this call. And I kept the Sounders in the loop, just saying, 'If we do something exceptional, we're doing the right thing and not overshooting anything here.' We look at this as the start of our project towards Russia in 2018. We have some great youngsters coming through the ranks that are starting to break through."
Morris spent a week training with his new USMNT teammates before the game in Prague, where he remained on the bench throughout the 90 minutes of play. Despite missing out on the opportunity for his first cap, however, the Washington Youth Soccer alum says he learned many invaluable lessons.
“It gave me a look into the lifestyle a little bit, into what I need to continue to work on to get there and to get called back in,” Morris told The Sporting News. “It definitely gave me stuff I need to work on. It’s always awesome to play with such good players and to learn from them, guys like Jozy Altidore and people I grew up watching on TV. It’s kind of crazy to be on the same field with them. "After some of those training sessions, I wasn’t just physically tired...I was mentally tired," he continues. "You have to think so much quicker, just think more when you’re in an environment like that. The speed of play is at a whole ‘nother level. So I’ve got to continue to be confident, thinking when I go out there I can play and hang in there. I have a lot of goals with the National Team and hopefully I can continue to play with them in the future.”