U.S. Men's National Team

Morris takes step forward in fierce battle on USMNT forward depth chart

No position has been under the microscope more in the last few weeks than forward when it comes to the U.S. Men’s National Team.

Dom Dwyer took the international scene by storm by scoring a goal in each of his first two games against Ghana and Panama. On Wednesday night, Jordan Morris raised the level of competition even higher with a two-goal performance in the team’s 3-2 win over Martinique.

Morris used his often-criticized left foot to score the second USMNT goal and then he smashed in the game-winning strike in the 76th minute to double his international goal tally.

“I thought it was a great win,” Morris said. “Martinique made it tough on us, but for me every time I go out there and try and be dangerous. Credit to Eric (Lichaj) on the first one. He put in a great ball and Gyasi (Zardes) on the second one. I just try to go out and do my best every time and was fortunate enough to get a couple tonight.” 

Despite entering what looks like a direct competition for the spot on the depth chart behind first-team forwards Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood and Clint Dempsey, Morris is focused on the overall goal the USMNT has set for the competition.

“Of course it always feels good to score, but it’s all about the team, especially in a tournament like this it’s about getting three points,” Morris said. “For me, going out every day in practice and in games trying to do the best I can and prove myself to the coaching staff, but in the end, I’m fighting for the team and play for the team and do whatever I can to get the win for the team.” 

But with the success of Dwyer and Morris in July, it’s hard not to get into a debate about what the forward depth chart will look like in Russia. As long as they stay healthy, Altidore, Wood and Dempsey are locks to make the roster. But that’s a big if since Altidore and Wood have dealt with injuries in the past and Dempsey is getting up there in age.

If there is just one spot up for grabs, it looks like Dwyer and Morris will be the two main contestants, unless Juan Agudelo has a few massive performances before the end of the Gold Cup. The pair don’t have to worry about Gyasi Zardes, as it appears the LA Galaxy man is considered a midfielder, not a forward, by the current coaching staff.

Morris showed off his best skills on Wednesday night, as he made a few terrific runs into the box, including on his first goal in which he linked up with an Eric Lichaj pass from the right wing at the near post.

“(Jordan) runs very well in the penalty area,” USMNT manager Bruce Arena said. “We told the guys at halftime we had to get to the near post and we had  to be a little bit more aggressive and it was good to see that we could pull that off. (Jordan) had an overall good game tonight with Juan. It was impressive.” 

While Morris benefits a ton from his speed, Dwyer impacts the game with his hold-up play and relentless motor. He also popped up in the right place at the right time to score the USMNT’s lone goal against Panama.

At this stage, Dwyer and Morris are neck and neck for the fourth forward position on the World Cup roster. Both have already impressed at the Gold Cup, but hopefully there are four more games to go for each to continue to state their respective cases in what should be one of the closest fights for a spot on the plane next June.

    • Postmaster

      I like Morris quite a bit, but Dwyer would be REALLY useful if Altidore tore a hamstring in the first match of a major tournament.


  • Twomilerule

    I would take neither Morris or Dwyer.
    Not to be overly negative but both pale in comparison to Wood and Altidore. Jozy gets dogged all the time for his fitness but his hold up play is great and passing is excellent. Plus, if he can get the ball at either feet around the 18 yard box he can score. Wood is great at running into space, running off the shoulder of CB’s, presses extremely well, and drives the ball at net like no one in the shallow forward pool.
    I am skeptical about Dwyer on the big stage. Having see him play in person six or more times he has great annoying energy and is great in the run of play finding spots to receive the ball. However, his game is full of shenanigans and with an international official he is a yacking yellow and studs up red possibility.
    Morris, could very well go to Russia. But his obvious holes in his game detract in the attacking third. Is his speed back to what it was? This guy drives me crazy with his right foot crosses from the left side. The thing I like about Morris is he will give you an honest effort and then some more. But lacks quality with the ball at his feet!
    A healthy Aron Johannsson is better then both Dwyer and Morris. Too bad he is so banged up and off the radar.


    • whammmm

      While I would agree Jozys hold up play has improved quite a bit(in the past it was par at best) a guy of his stature should be much better with his back to goal. I would argue Dwyer, even with the height differential is almost as good if not equal to Jozy in that regard. Obviously we have not seen Dwyer against quality opponents at the international level and I’m not saying he is better option than Jozy. Im just not in awe of Altidores hold up play, especially considering his size. Let’s hope he continues getting better. We need him maxing out his potential going into Russia or close to it.


      • Gary Page

        Dwyer hasn’t played in any really meaningful games, except maybe Panama. It is much too early to judge him and certainly rash to compare him to Jozy. Wait until he plays against someone like CR, Mexico in qualifying, or against a top European team. Playing in WC qualifiers or in the World Cup is a whole different level than in the Gold Cup against B teams.


      • whammmm

        @Gary, that is precisely what I said in my post. The whole point being Jozys hold up play should be much better.


    • the unmistakeable Ronaldinho

      Assuming all players are healthy this is a very interesting roster spot battle.
      -Morris has many traits that would suit a come off the bench role very nicely (speed and work rate), but as everyone has noted his lack of technical ability shows at times. His current struggles at club level aren’t doing him any favors though.
      -Dwyer is an interesting case too. He is a more refined player than Morris and has a work rate to match, but lacks the explosiveness. Hes another unproven quantity at this level.
      -Agudelo seems to be way behind these guys for now. He’s silky smooth with the ball at his feet, but doesn’t work as hard and is not the athlete of Morris or Dwyer. Consistent production has always been a major shortcoming for him. He needs to continue to produce in MLS to stay in the picture.
      -Johannson is a bit of a mystery right now. Very long injury layoff and big questions on where he will play club. He also lacks a bit of explosiveness, but is a different player than our other options. Good player with a good head on his shoulders, but we haven’t seen him in a long time. He has plenty of ground to make up.

      The 4th striker role I think will go to the ‘hot hand’ of the group at the time of selection. All the contenders bring something different but have some holes in their game too. Outside of these 4 is anyone a legitimate contender to push their way into this conversation?


  • Dennis

    Morris, I think, is still a work in progress. He does have speed, strength and a decent right foot. He still plays too directly towards the goal when he gets the ball and while that works in a few situations, smart defenders will know where he is going and defuse it pretty quickly. His left foot is not that good so again defenders can anticipate where he is most dangerous. He is not the best player to have making passes or holding the ball.

    He needs to gain more awareness of where his teammates are and how he can make use of them. He is a smart kid and will learn, but I am a bit disappointed about how long it seems to be taking him to develop a better soccer brain.


    • the unmistakeable Ronaldinho

      What scares me a bit about Morris is that in his second pro season he has regressed instead of making a big jump forward. This brings into question if his development has plateaued a bit and his ceiling is lower than we thought. He’s got some great qualities that if he could turn into more production would make him a surefire bet to be in the 23. He has to start making more of a consistent impact on games though.


  • Old School

    Random, but: Did Morris get fat, or did he simply add some bulk to his frame? Does this have any correlation to his dip in production?

    He looks noticably heavier than last year.


    • Gary Page

      He has yet to play for Schalke and the World Cup is less than a year away. Given Pulisic’s meteoric rise, it’s not impossible, but highly unlikely.


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