Underdog of the Week: Ryan Morris
Ryan Morris has lifted trophies for numerous teams during his life, yet has struggled to find himself in a situation that saw him as a player of importance that his stat-line dictated he should have. The Top Drawer Soccer 100 recruit left West Virginia University to play in DIII, and now pursues his professional debut..

By: Christopher McCollum

Ryan Morris is something that the American soccer collective both lacks and embodies at the same time. It’s a strange dichotomy putting the two next to each other; on one hand, he is everything that the world has come to know the United States for in terms of players: Ryan has an engine that is quite often unmatched, he simply does not stop working whether it’s the 5th minute or the 95th minute. This is the hallmark of the quintessential American athlete that foreign coaches buy up on the bargain bin transfer market when they’re looking for a workhorse.

On the other hand, Ryan possesses a sharp mental fluency of the game, considers himself a student of the game and the players who master their positions, and waxes on about DeAndre Yedlin’s pros and cons as the same type of enigmatic player: Rough as the product may be, an athlete who understands the tactical side as well as the physical side.

Ryan began playing the game when he was a child, and entered into the club travel system as early as allowed. After a decade of finding the next best thing, bouncing between the NJCSA and PDA in New Jersey, winning just about every amateur award possible as a team and being a stand-out star on the field despite not having the confidence of his coaches at all times, he established himself as one of the elite college prospects in the country, making Top 100 lists and being the subject of intense recruiting battles between Division I schools.

In the end, he settled on West Virginia University, a team that would eventually contribute almost a dozen professional players to the game including Raymon Gaddis of the Philadelphia Union, but a broken foot leading into pre-season saw him sidelined and red shirted.

“It happened in May of my senior year in high school. I had to get two screws in my fifth metatarsal, and with a 32, 35 man roster, there wasn’t really a chance of me working my way back in late in the season after I rehabbed. But the next spring I came out firing. I was playing well, I was scoring goals in pre-season, but the coach told me that there wasn’t going to be a place for me on the team for the next season. It left me at a dead end.”

Ryan was left with no choice but the community college route if he wanted to continue playing. Recruiting was over with for universities, enrolment had come to an end as well for most of them, leaving community college as his fallback. It ended up potentially being a blessing in disguise as he was able to get his game back on track, and won a regional championship with Brookdale Community College. They ended up finishing fourth in the country at Nationals, and Ryan finished his season with a collection of “All-Everything” awards and 20 goals and 15 assists.

Providence and Fordham came calling, both programs having originally wanted him before WVU took him. It was too tough a task to come up with the money for the schools as a transfer student though, and Ryan ended up at Montclaire State University in Division III for his junior year of school. He was a standout player for the beginning of the season, but then things kind of turned around.

“We got about seven games in and I was averaging 70 or 80 minutes a game, and the coach just for some reason decided he didn’t like me on the field anymore. My minutes started dwindling. I was playing striker at the time, but I told my coach that I’d play out on the wing as well if it would help me get more playing time. There was a game where it was against an important in-division rival, and I scored a hat trick in about 25 minutes. The next game, I scored again. But still my minutes kept dropping. I played maybe 15 minutes a game after that as we made it to the Elite 8. The next season, I was still getting a few minutes a game up to about the halfway point, and I wanted to quit altogether. I was miserable. I was depressed; the number one thing that always meant everything to me wasn’t there anymore.”

Faced with such a scenario, Ryan left the game entirely for a month, left school, and set about trying to find his internal focus again. He put school on hold, a decision met with mixed reviews from those around him. In the end though, he knew in his heart that school would always be there, but the opportunity to train and pursue the professional dream needed to be taken advantage of immediately. He got together with a group of current and former professionals in New Jersey, got himself back into game shape, and looked into the new semi-professional ASL that was launching. Ryan became one of many SoccerViza combine attendees to have played in the ASL, signing on with the AC Crusaders out of Atlantic City in 2014. He played every minute of every game, but the Crusaders went defunct in its current form at the end of the season, pending a move to Florida and a different league.

It was back to square one for the 22-year old winger, who now has his sights ahead of him with a series of pre-season and trial engagements lined up through the winter.

Leading up to those engagements, Morris attended SoccerViza’s July combine in Danbury, Connecticut, where he tested the waters for Portuguese and Spanish clubs in attendance. It was a good experience for him, seeing where he stood against players of his peer group and taking in the seminars about self-motivation and surviving in the professional game.

“That was probably the best decision I’d made in my playing career, coming to the combine. It was always my goal to play professional soccer, I didn’t care if it was USL-II or PDL or anything else. SoccerViza changed how I look at things in succeeding, Joe [Funicello] and the staff gave me so much inside information on how things go. I’ve been reaching out and networking, and doing what he [Joe] says to do the most, which is work hard myself for what I want.”

Watching Morris play at the SoccerViza combine in July left many spectators looking forward to his career progression. He’s an intuitive player with a spectacular engine; able to drift behind lazy defenders, squeeze into the middle to control tempo, and retreat back to help on defense. His development as a player in the striker position has molded well with his athleticism and body type, which seems to point squarely at the flanks as his home.

“The position is evolving with the game. The new breed of winger has to have a more diverse skillset and be able to play in all different areas of the field. Sometimes a winger needs to come into the middle of the field and fill a gap and almost act as a center midfielder. Sometimes a winger is getting behind the defense and acting almost as a striker. Sometimes a winger is retreating back and holding position in the defensive third almost like a defender. You have to have all these different skillsets to go along with an engine to make them possible.”

Driving him along his path to pursuing full time professional soccer are the small things that have happened and have been said, from his parents to his friends, to his girlfriend and former teammates, and commentary all along the way about how hard he works on and off the field.

“I get so much motivation from them [family and friends], but one thing I always come back to is youth coaching. I’m doing youth coaching right now, and I always tell me players to have fun with it. And the moment you stop having fun with it, the moment you lose that passion, is when you need to hang it up and look for something else. I still feel that, and as long as I do, I’m going to prove that I’m good enough. To all the people I used to play with and for who said I wasn’t good enough… I’m still working towards my dream every day. I understand I may not make a lot of money on the low end of professional soccer, but that doesn’t matter to me. I want to do what I love. And it’s going to happen. I know it. I know I’m going to achieve my dream.”