Soccer Pro Alex Morrell: Living the Dream
By Meredith Jean Morris
Like many young boys, Lakeland native Alex Morrell grew up playing soccer.
“I started when I was 3 or 4 years old, and then joined a competitive league when I was 10 or 12,” he says. “I started to realize I was better at soccer than at any other sports.”
It was also around that time that the 22-year-old says he began to dream of playing professional soccer one day.
“He wanted to play pro soccer when he was a little kid,” says Alex’s father, Gonzalo Morrell. “Now, he gets to play against some of his childhood stars.”
Alex Morrell is currently living his childhood dream; he was drafted as an outside midfielder by the Chicago Fire Major League Soccer team in January 2016.
“That was the most exciting moment so far,” says Morrell of his MLS career, “definitely the draft, hearing my name called out. I think about how I made it, how I’m out here with these great players.”
Morrell’s journey to the MLS has been one filled with hard work and dedication.
“I started playing when I was younger in a rec league at Carter Road, competitively with the Lakeland Lasers,” he says. “Here in Polk County, it was a lot of fun to be playing with friends.”
However, when Morrell’s coaches saw his potential, he says he was encouraged to move on to a more competitive level.
“The coaches I had pushed me and helped me to get to the next level,” he says.
Soon, he was traveling to St. Petersburg to play with Strictly Soccer F.C.
“In the league, we got into a lot of tournaments,” Morrell says. “There everyone was more experienced, and it was more serious.”
The experience Morrell gained at Strictly Soccer F.C. helped him during his high school years, as well.
“I played for George Jenkins High School, and we made the district finals,” he says. “The last year was our best year, but we had a fifth-year senior on the team, so we weren’t eligible to advance.”
Despite the team’s ineligibility during his senior year, Morrell says that playing in high school was a lot of fun, and it was during those years that his future with soccer began to take shape.
“I always wanted to play professionally, and at that point, I started to focus on getting into college and playing there,” he says.
While several college coaches came to see Morrell play, ultimately, it was the University of North Florida in Jacksonville that won him over.
“They were the first ones to come to up and give me the whole talk about transitioning to a professional team,” he says.
The discussion turned out to be more than just talk. While at UNF, Morrell says he had the right combination of coaching and opportunities to see a professional career in his future.
“Being under [UNF coaches] Derek [Marinatos] and Josh [Dunn], taught me about playing the game,” he says. “They helped me go from a stupid freshman kid to being someone who could play for a summer MLS team.”
UNF Head Coach Derek Marinatos says the changes he saw in Morrell during his college career were impressive.
“Alex came to us and immediately we could tell he had something special,” Marinatos says. “He had a gift. With or without the ball he is fast. He came to us a skinny boy and left a man.”
However, it wasn’t just Morrell’s physical aspects that Marinatos thinks helped to propel him into the pros.
“Mentally, he is one of those kids who is fearless,” he says. “The biggest team in the world could come at him but he wouldn’t be afraid. There was a situation where we were playing a pro team and he would take on any of the players. He never doubted himself.”
Morrell was the first men’s soccer player from UNF to be drafted to a professional soccer team, Marinatos says.
“He was the first pro from our program, and while he was here, he helped us to build some great teams,” he says. “We’re proud of him.”
Morrell got his first taste of professional soccer while in college, spending a summer practicing with the Philadelphia Union, he says.
That experience helped prepare him for the MLS Combine in early 2016, from which he was drafted by the Chicago Fire on January 14.
“After the combine, I went home because I just wanted to hang out with my family,” Morrell says. “I knew it was my big chance, and then the Chicago Fire picked me up. It was an amazing feeling.”
Now, Morrell spends his days living his dream.
“In a typical week, we practice every day, getting in around 9 a.m., hitting the gym, stretching, foam rolling, doing transition drills, then regular practice,” he says. “Afterwards, it’s an ice bath and eating. Sometimes we practice twice a day.”
Whether at the professional level or playing in a rec league, Morrell says it can be easy to become overwhelmed by the practices and constant work, but he encourages serious players to stay focused on the journey.
“You have to keep the love for the game,” Morrell says. “Continue to love it, continue to focus on the journey, that’s something you have to remind yourself of when you’re doing it all year ‘round. Also, make sure you’re thanking those people who support you along the way. You never realize what your parents are doing for you and the sacrifices they make.”