Fortuna Düsseldorf's Alfredo Morales says he'd never turn his back on the USA - could his loyalty soon be rewarded? - © 2014 Getty Images
Fortuna Düsseldorf's Alfredo Morales says he'd never turn his back on the USA - could his loyalty soon be rewarded? - © 2014 Getty Images
bundesliga

Alfredo Morales: Could the Fortuna Düsseldorf midfielder be playing his way into USA coach Gregg Berhalter's plans?

After a typically robust showing as part of a Fortuna Düsseldorf side that repeatedly punched above its weight to secure a second successive season of Bundesliga football, could Alfredo Morales be inching his way onto USA coach Gregg Berhalter's radar? The 29-year-old makes a solid case, despite a three-year international exile dating back to former US boss Jürgen Klinsmann's tenure...

Morales rarely sees his name up in lights, but that's not what he is designed to do. As a defensive midfielder, the German-American-Peruvian tri-national is primarily responsible for the dirty work in front of the back line: anticipating, tackling, forcing mistakes and generally ruffling opposition feathers.

In 20 Bundesliga appearances for promoted Fortuna last season, Morales did just that. The 13-time US international won 45 per cent of his attempted challenges, conceding 38 fouls and receiving six yellow cards.

By comparison, Schalke's Weston McKennie and RB Leipzig's Tyler Adams prevailed in the tackle roughly 50 per cent of the time.

Measured purely on their abilities as midfield foragers, there is little - perhaps other than an nine-year age gap - between the US trio.

"I'm not the kind of player who hides from the opposition and plays within his limits," Morales told regional newspaper, Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung. "You have to knuckle down."

Morales (l.) could yet line up in the same US team as Schalke's Weston McKennie (r.). - imago/Uwe Kraft

Morales' philosophy has helped him win 13 international caps - one fewer than McKennie, three more than Adams - albeit with his last falling in the May 2016 friendly with Puerto Rico, when he lined up on the left-hand side of midfield.

Two Copa Americas, one FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign, a raft of exhibition matches and the 2019 Gold Cup - where the US lost to Mexico in the final - have since passed him by.

In that period, Morales has amassed three seasons worth of Bundesliga 2 football with Ingolstadt, and two in the Bundesliga, including one with current employers Fortuna.

He has registered 11 goals and 12 assists spread over 185 appearances spanning eight years in Germany's top two divisions. That's more club outings than Hamburg-based US striker Bobby Wood, who turned out for the Stars and Stripes as recently as the November 2018 friendly loss to Italy.

Some say Morales' ship has sailed, but the Berlin-born man still harbours hopes of pulling on the red, white and blue of his adopted homeland.

"I have this relationship to Germany, but I've never played for Germany, and for me, it’s just always an unbelievable honour to represent the United States, my country," Morales - whose Peruvian father acquired American citizenship after serving in the US Armed Forces - told ESPN.

"The US national team was and always will be my biggest goal."

Morales (c.) won all 13 of his senior US caps under Jürgen Klinsmann between January 2013 and May 2016. - getty

On paper, it is a realisable target. Morales will only be 30 at the end of next season, and 32 by the time the 2022 World Cup rolls around.

Germany's record goalscorer Miroslav Klose won the 2014 World Cup at 36, while goalkeeping great Dino Zoff was 40 when he tasted gold with Italy 32 years earlier. Like Morales, the legendary duo operated in two of soccer's less age-sensitive positions; what the midfield destroyer steadily loses in pace, he will gain in guile.

In the short term, Morales' consistent performances in the engine room should prove invaluable for a Fortuna team out to avoid the fabled sophomore slump in 2019/20.

In the medium- to long-term, his dependable legs might just carry him back into the US fold.

Chris Mayer-Lodge