The Next Big Thing in American Soccer of early 2016 has not seen a whole lot of the latest young talent burdened with that distinction, but Jordan Morris, as Robert De Niro would say, has heard things about Josh Sargent.
“It’s very exciting what he’s doing,” Morris said of Sargent, the 17-year-old striker in the midst of a breakout 2017 with the United States youth national teams, first with the Under-17s at the CONCACAF Championships and currently with Tab Ramos’ side at the Under-20 World Cup in South Korea.
The hype around Sargent grows in American soccer circles with every goal, mostly because it’s usually scored in spectacular fashion. The St. Louis native bagged three goals in three games to lead the U.S. U-20s to the top of their group over Senegal, Saudi Arabia and Ecuador. The Americans next face New Zealand in a round-of-16 match on Thursday (7 a.m. ET on FS1).
“It’s awesome,” Morris said of Sargent’s emergence. “But I haven’t been able to watch him too much.”
The connection between Morris and Sargent doesn’t end there. Sargent reportedly has a deal in place to go to Europe and join Werder Bremen, the same German club that Morris impressed in a January 2016 trial but ultimately turned down. Instead, Morris opted to join his hometown Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer after a stellar college career at Stanford.
If Sargent sought his advice on which path to take, the 22-year-old Morris would tell him to “not listen to the outside world too much” and “just follow what really is going to be the best for you.”
“I know a lot of people would say that you need to go over to Europe to develop, but for some people that’s not going to be the right situation. For some, of course, it is,” said Morris, who spoke to Yahoo Sports to promote Delta Air Lines’ “Join the XI” campaign, which provides Sounders fans the chance to sign a one-day contract and later fly with the team to its July 29 match at the LA Galaxy.
“If you feel that’s the right situation and what’s going to help you develop best, that’s a great option,” Morris added. “But for me, I knew coming back to Seattle and developing here was going to be the best for me.”
Morris’ decision to remain stateside was validated – first by earning MLS Rookie of the Year honors, second by helping the Sounders win their first MLS Cup in a dramatic penalty shootout victory at Toronto FC.
This season, both he and the Sounders have struggled. Seattle, two spots below the Western Conference’s last playoff berth in eighth place, won just once in eight games before its current two-game win streak. However, the club overcame an awful first half of the 2016 season to win the title – without star forward Clint Dempsey – so there’s little concern.
More pressing has been the sophomore slump of Morris, who has managed only two goals in 13 games. While an ankle injury in the third week of the season could be attributed to the lack of scoring, Morris acknowledges that he needs to improve his finishing in order to keep building “that confidence in front of goal.”
“That killer instinct in the box is going to be important for me,” he said.
Scoring goals will keep alive his long-term goal of playing in a World Cup. Bruce Arena recalled Morris for the U.S. men’s national team’s next round of World Cup qualifiers – June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago in Commerce City, Colorado; and June 11 against Mexico at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City – and for the first time in Arena’s second tenure as USMNT coach, he has brought in a group representing the closest thing to a first-choice squad.
Club form will dictate who keeps getting the call from Arena, as the Americans continue their pursuit for a Russia 2018 berth. And for Morris, that means regaining his scoring touch with the Sounders.
“That’s always the goal: just to continue to get called in to those camps,” Morris said. “But I know there’s a lot of great forwards in the pool.”
It sounds crazy now, but Sargent, if he continues this rapid ascent, could join the senior team’s strike force in the not-too-distant future. But first, Sargent must choose the right environment to gain the necessary playing time to keep growing his game.
Sporting Kansas City reportedly holds Sargent’s MLS hometown rights. But it seems Europe will be too tempting. Sargent previously has trained with Schalke and PSV Eindhoven.
Should Sargent go abroad, Morris would have one more piece of wisdom for the kid.
“The mental side of the game … is very important when you’re playing at the professional level because things aren’t always going to be going great,” Morris said. “You have to learn how to deal with that, too.”
Joe Lago is the editor of FC Yahoo. Follow him on Twitter @joelago.
More soccer coverage from FC Yahoo:
• Wenger set to stay as manager because Arsenal doesn’t care about winning
• Bruce Arena calls up deep USMNT team for friendly, World Cup qualifiers
• Barcelona salvages Copa del Rey trophy from disappointing season
• Arsenal lifts third FA Cup in four years with 2-1 win over 10-man Chelsea
• How Antonio Conte and the Blues benefited from last season’s 10th-place finish
• Josh Sargent scores another great goal in U.S.’s U-20 World Cup win