By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Aug 15, 2016) US Soccer Players – Major League Soccer is the place where most US-based players get their start. They come into the league in a variety of ways. There’s the oft-maligned SuperDraft, where a crop of ever-dwindling college recruits still dream of pro careers. And through Homegrown Players contracts, like Seattle’s highly-touted rookie Jordan Morris. The cliche of the cream rising to the top is true of rookies. For example, past #1 draft picks have not always done well. Meanwhile, Rookie of the Year winners like Carlos Bocanegra and Clint Dempsey have gone on to successful USMNT careers.
The past few years has seen a tremendous growth in the quality of MLS rookies. More importantly, many have been able to make the transition from academy or college player to professional. American soccer is better for it. Still, it’s difficult to handicap rookies before the start of the season. Too many variables can affect how a rookie performs.
There was no way to know back on April 16 how things would play out this year when the Seattle Sounders and Philadelphia Union met at CenturyLink Park. The home team got the better of the Union that day, 2-1. Morris scored the game-winner with his first career MLS goal. Both Morris and fellow rookie, Union defender Keegan Rosenberry, have had a great season. Both players, however, are achieving success in two very different situations and in different positions. The case of Morris and Keegan is a tale of two rookies, highlighting the contrasting ways players can be successful in a league where clubs can often be inconsistent from one year to the next.
All the preseason hype among the 2016 rookie class surrounded Seattle Sounders FC striker Jordan Morris. Hailed as a future American star, Morris had a chance to sign with Bundesliga club Werder Bremen. Instead, he opted to sign a Homegrown Player contract with Seattle, a decision that buoyed the Sounders front office and its rabid fans. On the eve of the season, Seattle received a massive blow when Dempsey’s offensive partner Obafemi Martins signed with Chinese club Shanghai Greenland Shenhua. Coach Sigi Schmid, given little choice, thrust Morris into the spotlight. Instead of a slow transition, the 21-year-old would have to learn quickly very quickly as a starter.
In 23 games, Morris has scored seven goals and assisted on three at the same time as Seattle’s season has gone into a tailspin. The team has sat at the bottom of the Western Conference for months, triggering Schmid’s recent firing. For a team that has scored the fewest goals in the league, Morris’ season looks like a disappointment. In any other year or on another team, his numbers would be great. In last Sunday’s 3-1 win against Orlando City FC, Dempsey tallied a hat trick, with Morris recording two assists. This past Sunday, Morris scored the game winner in Seattle’s 2-1 win against Real Salt Lake. While some have argued that a player like Morris would have benefited from the US playing at the Olympics, the striker has made the most of his time learning from Dempsey.
“We’ve had to learn how each other likes to play and our tendencies,” Morris told reporters last week about his relationship with the National Team star. “I think we’re definitely getting it down. I know now he loves to make that late run after the ball slips through. We found him a couple times with that in the game. Our relationship is still building every day, so it’s been good.”
From Seattle’s work-in-progress nature to the confidence of a defender who is doing well on another across the country. That’s the situation the Philadelphia Union’s Keegan Rosenberry finds himself in. Interceptions, clearances and recoveries – the 22-year-old right back has been able to do it all since the season kicked off in March.
The Union has been one of the surprise teams in the Eastern Conference (along with second-year franchise New York City FC) and is now well positioned to make the MLS Cup Playoffs. Rosenberry didn’t start the season with any hype. Drafted third overall in January, Rosenberry played four years of college soccer with Georgetown and is now part of the Union’s rebuilding effort this season. Rosenberry isn’t the type of modern-day defender who helps the attacking third. That’s not what he does. Instead, he offers stability and confidence as an astute right back. His gritty 1v1 skills and ability to sweep away opponent’s chances are two big reasons why the Union has played so well, and conceded so little, in 2016. He was clutch again Saturday night as the Union cruised past the New England Revolution, 4-0.
Morris and Rosenberry remain the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year honors. Both will also likely take part in future Jurgen Klinsmann National Team call-ups in the coming months. Friendlies and World Cup Qualifiers mean the need for Klinsmann to take a look at more talent. Especially if the any of the players that formed “core” lineup of the recent Copa Centenario squad experiences any injuries.
While the fortunes of Seattle and Philadelphia head in different directions this season, one thing is for sure. MLS continues to be a talent pipeline for young Americans. 20 years ago, it was a different story.
Based in New York City, Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He covers all topics relating to American soccer, including Major League Soccer. He has covered the last two World Cups for the site. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2014. Clemente began writing for our site in July 2007. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
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