SHORT HILLS, N.J. — Alfredo Morales wasn’t sitting at home, waiting for his phone to ring, but he also never ruled out the chance he’d get invited back to the U.S. men’s national team.
Morales was cap-tied during the 2015 Concacaf Gold Cup by then-coach Jurgen Klinsmann. The competition allowed for six changes after the knockout round and Morales left, replaced by Joe Corona.
The last of his 14 appearances came in an international friendly against Puerto Rico on May 22, 2016.
While Morales never gave up hope, he admits “three years is a lot of time.”
Two weeks ago he received a text. Morales said he recognized it was “an American number,” but not one he had saved in his phone.
“This is Gregg Berhalter, do you have a minute to talk,” read the text.
Opportunity knocks and sometimes it comes in the form of a text message.
“He just told me that I deserve to come in and just be a part of the team,” Morales said of the subsequent call, which came about a minute later. “And he was just trying to explain to me his idea of soccer, the idea how he wants us, as a team, to improve. It was a really good conversation we had. I was really excited to come here to meet him personally. And it’s been a good few days so far.”
There is a distinctly different feel to this camp from the ones Morales had previously been a part of. Obviously there’s a different manager in Berhalter who is bringing his own concepts. There’s also a lot of new, younger faces with most of Klinsmann’s German-Americans not part of the mix.
While there was a chasm by some between the German-born American players — Morales being one of them — and the rest of the USMNT players, Morales never drew a distinction.
“I never did separate us. Everybody was here because we’re Americans,” Morales said. “We were proud to play for the U.S. Of course, for all of us it was easier to speak German than English. But its okay. I’m not missing anything.”
Morales said he watched, albeit from afar, as the USMNT failed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup and the subsequent youth movement started by interim coach Dave Sarachan and continued by Berhalter.
Morales said he was disappointed to not receive another call-up — “it would be bad if I wasn’t,” he admitted — but he also calls himself a “very confident” person.
“I was always sure that when I do it, then the chance will come,” he said. “And now we’re here.”
The 26-year-old has started all three of Fortuna Dusseldorf’s Bundesliga matches, scoring the lone goal in a 3-1 loss to Bayern Leverkusen and assisting on a goal in a 2-1 win Sunday over Eintract Frankfurt.
His teammate for club, and now country, is goalkeeper Zack Steffen, who has been impressed with Morales’ play for Dusseldorf and believes it can translate to the USMNT.
“I remember watching him with the national team a little bit. I never met him before coming over to Dusseldorf. But I mean, he’s an outstanding player, very physical, very poised on the ball and just very confident,” Steffen said. “He’s a huge part of our team back in Dusseldorf. And I think he can really help us out here.”
Morales’ return to the national team also means a chance to reunite with John Brooks, his former teammate at Hertha BSC.
“I’ve know him [for] 15 years, something like this,” Morales said. “And obviously, we played together in Berlin. We played together for the U.S. We play against each other a lot of times. He’s a great guy and he’s a very good friend. And he’s my roommate. So it’s really nice to come in and just be together for a week.”
Morales’ long exile from the USMNT is over. He didn’t think he’d have to wait as long as he did, but he’s also not dwelling on that.
There’s more important things to focus on.
“I’m very happy to be here. I want to impact the game, the team, the guys with me as a person, on the field off the field,” Morales said. “And I’m just trying to support in every way I can, in every situation. And this is what I’m just trying to bring to the table for the team.”