The next Olympic Games are over two years away, but a pair of Sounders FC Academy products already started the process of building toward the Brazil Games in 2016 with the first camp of the U.S. U-21 National Team under Head Coach Tab Ramos last week. After the five-day camp, Sounders FC forward Sean Okoli and Stanford forward Jordan Morris were happy with their showing at the camp and the opportunities with the U.S. squad that lie ahead.
"I thought camp went really well. I thought I got better over the days I was there and it was nice seeing the guys and the coaching staff," Okoli said. "Everything was good."
Both Okoli and Morris had experience with the U.S. U-20 National Team, Okoli coming at the beginning of the most recent cycle and Morris coming near the end. That experience gave them added confidence in last week's camp as 19 players from around MLS, Liga MX and the college ranks convened at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.
"Coming into this camp, I was more confident. I knew the coaching staff and the players a little bit, so it was good," said Morris, who was one of only two college players in the camp. "I definitely felt more comfortable out there and it went pretty well. It was an exciting experience. It was a good opportunity to show what I can do."
Okoli and Morris both played 45 minutes in the lone match of the camp, a friendly last Wednesday with the U-20 team from Club Tijuana.
After a scoreless first half, the group with Okoli and Morris in the second half led the way to a 2-1 win off of two goals from Chicago Fire midfielder Benji Joya. Morris played as a forward partner with LA Galaxy's Jack McBean with Okoli playing wide right. That often led to an attacking triumvirate with Morris flanking McBean on the left and Okoli coming up the right side that was both productive and threatening for the U.S.
During the camp, the Seattle-area duo got to know each other and Okoli was able to offer Morris some feedback and advice about making the transition from the college game to the professional ranks.
"He's a great player and he was a great guy to talk to. He has some experience now and stayed through his junior year, so he was a good resource to talk to about my different options," Morris said.
It was a new experience for Okoli, who as a rookie with Sounders FC finds himself playing the role of student. In his time with Morris, he was more of a teacher, talking the Stanford freshman through the options in front of him.
"I was in his position not too long ago. He's in a good position right now and he's getting better every day," Okoli said. "He controls what happens next so I told him to just enjoy it."
On the field, Okoli felt like he got a headstart on what will likely be a competitive Olympic cycle for the U.S. after failing to qualify for the 2012 Olympics in London.
"It's a lot different for me now. During the U-20 cycle, I got called in to some of the early camps but I didn't make the squad after that. I kept grinding and working hard and I'm glad to get another opportunity to wear the badge. I'm a lot more confident now and I can focus on the things that they told me to work on," he said. "Being in the national team, you're competing against guys who are playing all over the world. There are some guys in our age from other countries that are more established in their pro careers, so we are trying to catch up with that and we're all getting better every day."
Okoli returned to Seattle after the camp ended on Thursday and played 90 minutes in a 1-1 draw for the Sounders FC against the Colorado Rapids in MLS Reserve League action. He has 18 minutes in two appearances in the regular season.
Morris, meanwhile, is back in Palo Alto and will play in the final two matches on the spring calendar for Stanford in May. After finishing his freshman year in early June, he plans to return to Seattle and train for part of the summer with Sounders FC.