MLSsoccer.com on Thursday unveiled its annual 24 Under 24 series ranking the top young players in Major League Soccer, and Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris came in at No. 3 on this year's poll.
The panel of voters consisted of media members around the league and SoundersFC.com caught up with three of the voters — MLSSoccer.com’s Matthew Doyle, ESPN.com’s Jeff Carlisle and longtime MLS journalist Kyle McCarthy — to find out more about their evaluations of Morris and what went into their voting process.
SoundersFC.com: Where did you rank Morris on your list?
Doyle: I had him in the top 5, which still feels just about right. I think he's been really, really good, but not quite at the level of "carry the offense for games at a time" like peers like Cyle Larin or Kekuta Manneh, while Keegan Rosenberry and Kellyn Acosta have both been a bit more consistent.
Carlisle: No. 9.
McCarthy: No. 3.
What is the best part of his game?
Doyle: Obviously it's a combination of his speed and the way he uses it. He makes really simple, direct movements, and is good at being the third wheel who A) works off the possession built by others, and B) constantly helps create that possession by being a threat to get in behind. Back lines drop deeper when he's out there because he will torch them, and that gives guys like Nicolas Lodeiro, Clint Dempsey and Cristian Roldan more room to do their thing.
Combine it with his first touch when going toward goal, which is really good, and you have the type of channel-running No. 9 that through-ball artists like Lodeiro love to play with.
Carlisle: His pace, his ability to stretch defenses. The pressure he puts on a back line trying to bend them out of shape with the runs that he makes. His right foot is very good. As he’s getting more accustomed to the pro game, he’s finding different ways to score. He’s got great instincts around the box. He’s shown an ability to handle the physicality. He can ride a tackle. It’s his rookie season and he’s got 10 goals already. I think he has big upside for sure.
McCarthy: His instinctiveness in the final third. He knows where he needs to be, he knows how to get there and he knows what to do when the ball is on his foot. Those qualities are very difficult to teach. He has them and he has shown that he can produce them consistently for the Sounders this season.
Where does he need the most improvement?
Doyle: First: He’s got to use that left foot for more than just standing on.
Second: His movement off the ball is great when other people are creating possession, and he can open up space if there are enough skill players in the midfield behind him. But if he's asked to be the second-most creative player out there, or the second-most skillful on the ball, he's pretty easily neutralized.
Compare him to Juan Agudelo, another American No. 9 on this list. Agudelo's feet are so good and his movement in possession is so good that he allows the Revs to play through him — a No. 9 with at least part of the responsibilities usually saved for a No. 10. His vision, comfort receiving and passing the ball in traffic — that's on another level.
Morris has to get there, or at least get closer. Agudelo's improved a bunch from age 21 to 23, as has Bobby Wood, as did Jozy Altidore, as did Gyasi Zardes. If Morris wants to beat those guys out for the USMNT job, working on being an attacking fulcrum has to be on his offseason to-do list.
Carlisle: He’s very right-footed. He’s got to be a little more clinical in front of goal.
McCarthy: For Morris to reach the peak of his powers, I think he needs to continue to refine his weaker foot. You’ve seen him at times this year where his instincts always seem to drag him back toward his stronger foot. In order for him to really reach that next level, he’s going to have to learn to trust his weaker foot a little more and develop that into something where he instinctively is willing to use it at the right times.
What do you think his ceiling is and what kind of potential does he have?
Doyle: To me he seems like a guy who'll be a year-in, year-out threat to score 15-plus goals as long as he has skill players behind him. "MLS All-Star" and "starting forward on an MLS Cup-winner" and "USMNT regular" are all right there for him.
Beyond that, though? This is the best forward crop in USMNT history, so I'm not sure I see "every game US starter" in his future. He has the talent to make the job his own, of course, but so do about five other guys.
Carlisle: In terms of his ceiling I think he can be a very effective international striker for the U.S. national team and a great MLS player. I wonder if he really wants to take on the challenge of proving himself in Europe, however. He seems very similar to Landon Donovan in that way; content to stay at home. Of course, that is his decision and nobody else’s. Either way, he’ll need to work on the holes in his game, primarily his reliance on his right foot to reach his potential.
McCarthy: Morris has the potential to lead the United States’ forward line for several years. He boasts the natural ability, the intelligence and the willingness to work to succeed at the highest levels. He’s shown that with his adjustment to MLS this year and his performances on the international level with the U.S. There are no guarantees about how high a player can reach during the course of his career because there are so many factors that play into it, but Jordan’s first steps as a professional and his time on the international scene bode well for his continued progress over the next few years.
What do you think of his development throughout the season?
Doyle: That hold-up play used to be non-existent, but now he's at least functional. He checks back to provide an outlet fairly well and he can receive the ball with his back to goal, hold off a defender and at least keep possession. I'm not sure that was in his bag of tricks back in March and April.
He's also gotten better at cycling through his "shoot, dribble or pass?" decision tree when on the break (which was necessary after a few bad decisions in July). He was always good at getting into the right spots when the game opened up, but now he's good at doing the right thing when he's in those spots.
And to me that's the most important thing. Lots of guys have great potential, but a finite number of them actually improve — learning how to get better is a skill in and of itself. Morris appears to have that, and that, more than anything else, should have the fans in Seattle smiling.
Carlisle: I think he’s made huge strides, and more than anything mentally. Certainly the beginning of the year, the expectations and the weight of that wore him down a little bit. I think that weighed heavy on him. I think he’s figured out a way to cope with that. The way he started to combine with Dempsey is better. I don’t think that combining with guys was necessarily a big part of his game, but I think that part of his game has improved quite a bit.
McCarthy: He’s done fantastically well to shoulder the burden of expectation and use it to fuel himself going forward. He inevitably encountered some of those initial hurdles that all rookies face, but he managed to overcome them and started to show his qualities consistently over the course of the season. It’s a credit to the Sounders, to Sigi Schmid and Brian Schmetzer, and to Morris himself that he has adjusted well to MLS, that he has continued to score goals on a regular basis and continue to play an important part in the team even as the situation has evolved over the course of the season. His development is noticeable from the start of the season to now, and I think it will continue as the matches increase in importance as the regular season winds down.