Mercer Island native Jordan Morris hopes his strong, assertive Gold Cup showing parlays into continued success with the Sounders, a team for which he's scored only twice this season
Sounders forward Jordan Morris got to at least spend the night back in the hometown he says he still wouldn’t trade for anything.
Morris had flown home to Seattle on Thursday, fresh off his CONCACAF Gold Cup win in California, before catching a quick turnaround with the team to Los Angeles on Friday ahead of Saturday’s game against the Galaxy. For Morris, still only 22, his Gold Cup-winning goal for the U.S. men’s national team Wednesday capped a strong tournament that sets him up well for the final few months of the Sounders season.
His performance on an international stage served as a reminder that, despite only two goals this season in Major League Soccer play, he remains one of the country’s top young players. At times this season, struggling to finish chances following his MLS Rookie of the Year showing in 2016, there has been talk of Morris perhaps pressing too hard to meet expectations while playing in his own backyard – a theory he disagrees with.
“Honestly, I love it,’’ he said. “I love being around my family and in my hometown. I don’t look at it as any extra pressure, it’s as if I was playing anyplace else.
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“I feel like if I was playing somewhere else, I’d feel the pressure to score goals and go out and help the team win any way I can.’’
Morris scored three goals in the tournament and looked strong throughout. He admitted last year to putting too much pressure on himself when going scoreless his first five games. But he says it’s all about his wanting to do his job and not about the hometown fans.
“A lot of players gain confidence based on how you’re playing, and when you’re a forward and you’re not scoring goals, it can be tough sometimes because that’s what you’re judged on,’’ Morris said. “So to be able to score a couple and help the team win this tournament, it’s such an honor. It was a lot of fun, it was a great month and it gave me a little bit of confidence to move forward.’’
Indeed, few MLS teams, if any, stand to benefit quite like the Sounders from a Gold Cup boost.
Cristian Roldan has three goals in two games since his return from playing in the tournament’s opening round, and forward Clint Dempsey – red-hot in games right before the Gold Cup – played a pivotal role in the USMNT semifinal win over Costa Rica and looks to have turned the clock back a couple of years.
Now there’s Morris, who just showed the world he hasn’t forgotten how to score. He says he’s ready to play Saturday, when the Sounders, now 8-7-6 and winners of three in a row, take on former coach Sigi Schmid in his new role as Galaxy boss.
Morris’ statements since scoring the Gold Cup winner in the 88th minute have tended to back up his assertion that he pressures himself to perform regardless of where he’s playing. Morris said his elation after the winning shot went in was due to an earlier defensive miscue, in which he’d left his man unmarked in the box and allowed him to score the game-tying goal off a corner kick.
“For me, it was obviously a little bit of a relief,’’ Morris said. “Because it was my guy that scored on the corner, and I felt really bad about that. I didn’t want to let the team down, so … when I saw that shot hit the back of the net I was obviously very excited, and it was a cool moment. But a lot of it was relief, for sure.’’
Relief or not, the growing assertiveness Morris showed throughout the tournament is something the Sounders want more of. The team’s brass suspects that Morris – young as he is – can sometimes act too deferentially when playing alongside U.S. soccer icon Dempsey.
Sounders teammate Brad Evans alluded this week to Morris parlaying his Gold Cup confidence into a more assertive style. Evans wants more of that selfish “striker’s mentality’’ from a player he says has the ability to take over games on his own.
“I’d like to see more of that out of him – him be an ass,’’ Evans said. “Him being a nice guy has gone a long way, but I think he needs that bite. (Wednesday) night showed that he can put things on his shoulders and make a big difference.’’
For Morris, it’s a lot to digest in a whirlwind 19 months that’s seen him win an NCAA championship with Stanford, an MLS Cup with the Sounders and now a Gold Cup thanks to the biggest goal of his soccer life. And with the Sounders now just four points out of first place and gearing for another MLS Cup run, it won’t slow down for him anytime soon.
“I think for me, like a lot of players, confidence plays a huge role,’’ Morris said.
And the Sounders are no doubt counting on it playing one for them these coming months.