Celebrating their 10th anniversary MLS season, the Sounders Saturday night got the band back together. Kasey Keller, Roger Levesque, Lamar Neagle, Steve Zakuani and Brad Evans drew the biggest hoo-rahs from those in the crowd of 39,011 who went back to the 2009 launch of the most successful expansion franchise in league history.
That pre-game ceremony was scripted. Opening night’s unscripted comeback was more compelling. Jordan Morris, the local prodigy gone dark in 2018, leaped out of rehab and into his accustomed spotlight.
Scoring twice within 10 minutes of the first half, Morris exceeded all expectations in the 4-1 win over FC Cincinnati. Including his own, almost a year after ACL surgery.
“I was waiting for so long,” he said. “I didn’t have any expectations for a scoring role. I just wanted to get out on the field with my teammates and win the game. It was icing on the cake to get a couple of goals.
“Last year was so long.”
Morris missed the season, and 10 games in 2017 with a different injury. One of America’s brightest young stars and a must-have homegrown player for the Sounders, Morris was dog-piled by his teammates after his 32nd-minute shot grazed a defender and found the net for his first home goal since March 19, 2017.
“They were all so supportive,” he said of his teammates during his rehab. “To have that embrace was something special.”
So was nearly the entire game for the Sounders. After they were stunned by a 22-yard rocket from Leonardo Bertone in the 13th minute — an echo of a 12th-minute goal in the opener a year ago against Los Angeles FC that decided a 1-0 Seattle loss — it was pure domination.
A response 13 minutes later from Kelvin Leerdam tied the score, then Morris unloaded his ordnance. An 86th-minute score from Raul Ruidiaz was the ribbon on a package that included a 23-7 advantage in shots, 8-3 on target.
In its first-ever regular-season game, Cincinnati was hardly a match. But the Sounders had been taking such a pounding from fans over slow starts for three consecutive seasons, the only answer was to pound back.
“I’d like to pump the brakes a little,” said coach Brian Schmetzer, considering the opposition, although he was happy to retire the slow-start narrative that had been “beat to death.”
But he also acknowledged a “proud-dad” feeling when Morris made such a dramatic return. Originally seen as a high-scoring successor to the retired Clint Dempsey, Morris was shifted to the right wing this spring to make room for Ruidiaz, the Peruvian star signed at mid-season last year.
First Morris had to prove he was fit, mentally as well as physically. Schmetzer betrayed no concern about the head part.
“We’ve had plenty of conversation with Jordan — some good, some bad,” he said. “Jordan has a support system around him that includes myself, his family, all the people around here. He’s a pretty grounded kid.
“He was sad about not playing last year. But I didn’t catch any sense of foreboding or depression from him.”
Schmetzer didn’t downplay the worthiness of going big from the start. The changed MLS playoff format provides a first-round bye for the conference champion and the potential of the home pitch throughout the postseason. For a balanced team of young veterans who finished the regular season 15-2-2 without Morris, such ambitions are warranted.
“Because of the new playoff format, we are very cognizant of what we need to accomplish in order to get one, two, maybe even a third home game here,” Schmetzer said. “So that is for sure on everyone’s radar. Coaching staff, players — we understand how vital points are going to be with the new format.”
Title ambitions run heavy in this group. Morris was asked if the night could have gone better.
“Maybe one more (goal),” he said, smiling. “Pretty special.
“With the new playoff format, the regular-season is even more important. Schmetz said it was just the start of the journey.”
It won’t be the same for the Sounders starting the season from ahead. They will attempt to manage their discomfort.