Sounders sign U.S. international Jordan Morris

USA forward Jordan Morris has signed with the Seattle Sounders. (Colin E. Braley/AP)

SEATTLE — It took a trip to Europe for Jordan Morris to reaffirm his desire to start his professional career in the U.S.

The best college player in the country last year and the rising star with the U.S. national team decided Seattle was where he wanted to begin.

"I always knew I wanted to come home," Morris said Thursday after being officially signed by the Seattle Sounders as a Homegrown Player. "I think my time over there, it was a good experience and a cool one, but it reaffirmed my belief that I wanted to play in my hometown and play before 45,000 fans at CenturyLink (Field)."

The Seattle-area native and former academy player with the Sounders signed the largest contract for a Homegrown Player in MLS history, according to Seattle general manager Garth Lagerwey. He’ll immediately join a roster that includes MLS stars Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins with the intent that Morris will become an immediate contributor on a team in need of a youthful influence.

Morris is certainly that. He's 21. He led Stanford to the national championship last season and won the Hermann Trophy as the top college player. And he's also the first collegian since 1995 to have made appearances for the U.S. national team, even scoring a goal in an exhibition against Mexico last April.

It's a lengthy and impressive pedigree Morris is bringing to the beginning of his professional career.

"He's got qualities that I think are unteachable qualities that sometimes I've tried to teach a player and never becomes engrained or part of his game," Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said.

Morris always seemed destined to start his career in Seattle after playing for the Sounders' academy and because of his father's role as the team doctor. But his professional options expanded as his role in college and with the national team increased. Morris caught Seattle's front office by surprise when he agreed to a trial with German club Werder Bremen in mid-December, spending a couple of weeks with the team. Morris was so impressive he was offered a contract by Werder Bremen.

But the trip to Europe turned out to be an opportunity Seattle didn't need to be worried about. If anything, it strengthened Morris' bond with the Sounders. It's a bit of a coup for MLS to get one of the top American prospects to rebuff an overseas offer.

"It's important that this young generation of players growing up with Major League Soccer have a connection to the clubs in the markets they grow up in," Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer said.

Seattle started trying to sign Morris at the conclusion of his freshman season at Stanford and Schmid recalled vehemently telling Morris he was making the wrong choice in returning to the Cardinal for his junior season. Schmid said he later acknowledged that Morris made the right decision, sending him a message prior to Stanford's national championship match, where Morris scored two goals.

Morris didn't believe he was ready for the professional game when his sophomore year with the Cardinal ended. Now he's prepared for the challenge.

"It was more the mental side of it. I just didn't really feel I was ready to make that jump mentally," Morris said. "I think I've gotten mentally tougher over the last year and that's something you definitely need in a pro environment and it was another chance with my team. It all worked out."