Rookie Jordan Morris was the only member of the Sounrders roster playing in a national championship game last year. He helped the Stanford Cardinal win its first NCAA title and claimed the Hermann Trophy, college soccer’s version of the Heisman. After a rocky start to his first pro year, Morris was MLS Rookie of the Year and has a chance to claim another national title when Seattle faces Toronto FC Saturday (5 p.m., FOX).
“That’s what you dream about, coming in your first year and coming straight to the MLS Cup,” Morris said Monday. “Things happen. You never know what’s going to go on through the season. I had no idea it would happen this quickly, but I’m very thankful that it did.
“In the middle of the season, it wasn’t looking like we were going to be in the playoffs. So to be here now, even though we’re playing away, everyone’s excited.”
Seattle’s transformation was spurred by a number of changes in late July, inluding the ouster of long-time coach Sigi Schmid after a 6-12-2 start, the arrival of Uruguayan midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro, and the return to health of center back Roman Torres.
The maturation of Morris was large.
Morris was Seattle’s most-hyped acquisition since the arrival of USMNT star Clint Dempsey. The Mercer Island native’s decision to play for his hometown club despite interest from European teams was hailed as an important moment in the history of U.S. soccer development. Schmid said that Morris could become as influential to U.S. soccer as Landon Donovan.
With the preseason sale of Nigerian star Obafemi Martins to Shanghai Shenhua, the pressure on Morris became more intense.
Then he went the first five games without a goal.
Was the pressure too high? Was too much being asked? Did the rookie possess a functioning left foot?
The breakthrough was a poked effort (although with the right foot) that was the game-winner against the Philadelphia Union April 16 to open his MLS account and give Seattle its second win.
“I’m pigeon-toed, so it’s natural for me to stab at the ball like that sometimes,” Morris said after that game. “I get some slack for it, but it’s more natural for me.”
In that post-game interview Morris looked like a shy kid, speaking in a near whisper to the crowd of media eager for his thoughts.
Flash forward seven months. Morris secured Seattle’s passage to its first MLS Cup with another toe-poke, this time past Colorado Rapids keeper Zac MacMath in the second leg of the Western Conference finals to seal the victory on aggregate scoring.
It seems unlikely that his teammates gave him guff for going for the poke.
Morris has found his feet and his voice, comfortable now in front of crowds of thousands and much more fearsome crowds of dozens of reporters.
Coach Brian Schmetzer has noticed.
“He’s had to overcome a lot of things, like his (Type 1 diabetes),” Schmetzer said. “He’s got a great family. We try to support him as an organization, so he’s got a lot of things helping him.
“He’s really maturing into a nice young man and a tremendous soccer player.”
Credit is due to Schmid for leaving Morris on, despite his early struggles. The minutes allowed the youngster time to figure out the realities of professional soccer.
The decision was made easier due to the lack of a capable replacement. But the investment paid off, producing a young player poised to scrum to one more decisive goal in a season of unlikely turnarounds.