Jordan Morris takes advice to heart in 'surreal' rookie season

By Paul Kennedy

Jordan Morris has gotten a lot of good advice in his rookie year from teammates and coaches on the Seattle Sounders, from national team players like Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore whom he'll face when the Sounders play Toronto FC in MLS Cup 2016 and from his family with which he still lives. But perhaps the simplest advice came from Nicolas Lodeiro when the Uruguayan joined the Sounders in late July.

“'When I get the ball,'" Morris says Lodeiro told him, "'you just run.'”

Morris and the Sounders haven't stopped running since Lodeiro arrived, and they've advanced all the way to MLS after being left for dead in midseason.

MLS doesn't have a lot of rookies who've been built up into stars -- the college game simply doesn't get a lot of media coverage -- but Morris, already a national team player when he left Stanford, was the most hyped rookie in MLS since 14-year-old Freddy Adu arrived in 2004. When Morris didn't score -- his first five games without a goal -- and the Sounders were losing -- three straight to open the season -- the criticism followed.

“At first, dealing with that pressure was tough," Morris admits. "I think I let it get to me, not scoring in those first five games. A lot of people were quick to write me off already. I think I let it get to me, but after scoring my first goal, I think I got that monkey off my back a little and realized that outside noise doesn’t really mean anything, whether it’s good or bad, because it’s not going to help me on the field. For me, it was a change of attitude."

The goals came -- one in each of the next four games -- as did the wins, at least temporarily. By late July, the Sounders were going nowhere and made a coaching change. Brian Schmetzer replaced Sigi Schmid, and the Sounders started winning.

Bradley, whom Morris credits with being an important mentor, has been impressed how Morris has taken everything in stride.

“Jordan has a pretty unique package in terms of what he can do on the field. But I think in some ways, the things I like most about Jordan are the things that maybe you guys don’t even realize.

"Here’s a kid who came into the league under an incredible amount of pressure from the beginning," Bradley said. "It was built up to be something, in some ways, bigger than it needed to be for a young player coming out of college, but he took everything in stride. In moments when people were ready to come down hard on him for missing chances, or for letting a few things get away from him, he didn’t let it bother him one bit. He’s gotten better and better as the year has gone on, you don’t see that in many young players.”

Morris finished the season with 12 goals, the most by an American rookie in MLS history, and had two of the Sounders' three goals in their 3-1 aggregate win over Colorado in the Western Conference final.

He'll become just the eighth rookie to start on an MLS champion if Seattle wins on Saturday and just the second player after Nick Garcia to win MLS Cup a year after winning the NCAA championship.

MLS rookie champions:
1996 Clint Peay (D.C. United)
1996 Eddie Pope (D.C. United)
1998 *Josh Wolff (Chicago)
2000 Nick Garcia (Kansas City)
2002 Alejandro Moreno (LA Galaxy)
2003 Jamil Walker (San Jose)
2004 *Freddy Adu (D.C. United)
2004 *Josh Gros (D.C. United)
2005 Ugo Ihemelu (LA Galaxy)
2008 *Andy Iro (Columbus)
2008 *Steven Lenhart (Columbus)
2012 Tommy Meyer (LA Galaxy)
Note: Players who played in MLS Cup.

“For me," Morris said at Thursday's pre-game press conference of playing in a final, "it’s kind of a case of not getting too into the moment or anything like that, not building anything up too much in your head. Obviously, it’s not like any other game, but you kind of try in your head to consider it like any other game so you go into it not too nervous.”

Morris had a lot to handle. First, Obafemi Martins, expected to form part of the trio of Seattle attackers with Clint Dempsey and Morris, left to play in China. Then, shortly after Lodeiro arrived, Dempsey was diagnosed with a heart condition and was later shut down for the season.

Through it all, Morris could count on support. From Cristian Roldan, whom he knew when they faced each other in the Pac-12, and his new best buddy on the Sounders in what he termed a "bromance." That friendship, says Schmetzer, allowed both players to grow together.

“Through the tough times," said Morris, "we can talk to each other and go over things. It’s been great to have a guy like that on the team.”

Schmetzer, quick to spread the credit around on everything about the Sounders' success, also mentioned Paraguayan striker Nelson Valdez as influential in Morris' progress. Morris himself praised Lodeiro.

“He makes me a better player," he said, "and he makes the players around him much better."

Not a lot of MLS players get a shot at winning the title at their hometown clubs. Landon Donovan did it four times with the LA Galaxy. Morris, from Mercer Island, is the lone Seattle youth product expected to play on Saturday. If he wins MLS Cup, Morris will be just the second MLS Homegrown player to start on a championship team after Gyasi Zardes with the Galaxy in 2014.

“I think no matter what, going into your season, your goal is to make the final. But it’s very difficult to do, so the fact that we’re here and I’m playing for my hometown club, I think in that mindset it’s definitely surreal that I’m able to represent this city and play on this great club and be in this situation we’re in now.”
2 comments about "Jordan Morris takes advice to heart in 'surreal' rookie season".
  1. Andrea Hana, December 9, 2016 at 10:05 a.m.

    Way to go, Jordan!

  2. Normand Conquest, December 10, 2016 at 6:09 a.m.

    I will be happy for either team. Seattle has been close since joining the league and TFC fans have endured many false starts. I hope it is a good game that is well officiated and both teams play well.

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