Jordan Morris to lead U.S. vs. Mexico in under-23 soccer match

Jordan Morris will face Mexico's under-23 team after scoring for national team last week

When Landon Donovan announced his retirement last year, one of the first people to express his sadness was Mexican Coach Miguel Herrera.

"Donovan is a great player," Herrera said of Donovan, the U.S. player Mexicans most hated and respected. "Not seeing him compete against us, it will be different."

Herrera might have a new nemesis in 20-year-old Jordan Morris, who scored his first goal last week against Mexico in his first start for the U.S. national team.

On Wednesday Morris and the U.S. team will get another shot at Mexico in an under-23 team friendly at StubHub Center (8 p.m., TV: UniMas, Univision Deportes).

Friendly is a misnomer is this series, one Donovan helped inflame by scoring in his national team debut against Mexico as a teenager, then later urinating on a Mexican practice field before a U-23 game.

"This is a huge rivalry," said Andreas Herzog, coach of the U.S. U-23 team. "For these players, it's a huge opportunity and we want to see them make the most of it."

For Herzog's team the game is big in another way as well. Soccer at the Olympic Games is a U-23 tournament and it's one the U.S. didn't qualify for three years ago. Mexico then rubbed salt in that wound by winning its first Olympic gold medal in London.

As a result, Wednesday's game against the reigning Olympic champions shapes up as a huge test for the U.S. ahead of this fall's CONCACAF qualifying event for the 2016 Games.

For Morris, the game represents an opportunity to continue a fairy tale journey that began last spring, when U.S. coaches got a good look at him when the World Cup team scrimmaged against Stanford.

Three months later he scored a goal in his debut for the U-23 team, earning his first call-up to the senior team for a post-World Cup friendly with Czech Republic.

Now that journey takes him to StubHub Center, which both he and Juergen Klinsmann, the national team coach and U.S. Soccer's technical director, hope is just a temporary stop on the way to next summer's Rio Olympics.

"We urgently need to try to build this pool and try to build a team that is getting together on every possible occasion," Klinsmann said. "Trying to find a chemistry, trying to find a spirit within the group and hooking them up with each other.

"If you want to go to Rio de Janeiro in 2016, you've got to show that to us right away."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Twitter: @kbaxter11

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