The admiration started on the soccer field as teenagers. Jordan Morris, a Mercer Island forward pegged as a future U.S. men’s national team standout, mirrored the same mix of skill and drive as Cristian Roldan, an against-the-odds midfielder from Pico Rivera, California.

The two traded states on their road to stardom. Morris wore the adversarial Stanford cardinal and Roldan clothed in University of Washington purple. The rivals orchestrated epic seasons for their schools, with Roldan earning the edge as he led UW to its first men’s Pac-12 championship since 2000 and was voted the conference’s 2013 Freshman of the Year.

“Jordan is so humble that he congratulated Cristian over Twitter,” Roldan’s father Cesar said of Morris’ direct message. “(Writing) ‘I hope you and I can share the same field on another level.’ Cristian told me when it happened years ago and that he has so much respect for Jordan and that was before doing things together.”

Legendary coach Sigi Schmid unknowingly formed what was coined “Jorstian Mordan” when the late Sounders manager influenced the selection of Roldan in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, adding him to the roster with Morris — a Homegrown player. The bond, which teammate Nico Lodeiro once teased needing a few minutes of separation, tightened through dogs, video games, engagements, Morris’ marriage, championships, injuries and a whole lot of pupusas — a savory Salvadoran dish.

Now the Sounders duo have reached the ultimate level in making the 26-player USMNT roster that will compete in the FIFA men’s World Cup in Qatar. The U.S. will open group play against Wales on Monday at 11 a.m. PT in Al Rayyan. The top two finishers in a pool that includes Iran and England advance to the knockout stage that begins Dec. 3.

“Maturing together has been such a huge honor,” Roldan, 27, said of Morris, 28. “Seeing each other’s growth both on and off the field. Seeing each other struggle and seeing the highs. That’s what makes this so much more satisfying. It’s going to battle each and every day with your brother. Now you get to enjoy the experience as well as battle it out in Qatar and fulfill the dreams that we’ve both had for a very long time.”

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You deserve to be here

Morris and Roldan’s storybook careers began in their backyards pretending with their old brothers they were on the national team.

Cesar worked double shifts to pay for youth soccer club fees for his three sons. Cesar, his wife Ana, coaches, neighbors and other parents helped to crisscross southern California for the boys’ practices, games and tournaments. Cesar would often return from work at 7 a.m., shower and drive to a tournament with the family, while Ana packed pupusas for lunch.

The youngest Roldans had the most soccer talent, Alex growing to play fullback with his brother for the Sounders. Cristian had the creative on-ball skills that he learned from Argentine star Maradona, who led his country to glory in the 1986 World Cup.

“I bought a videotape of (Diego) Maradona’s highlights and I’m not lying, Cristian used to watch that tape like three times a day,” Cesar said. “The skills of Maradona, he was just copying them in the backyard.”

For Morris, the schedule was just as hectic for his mother Leslie and father Michael, who is currently the Sounders’ chief medical officer and orthopedic surgeon, and their four kids. An early challenge was learning how to manage Jordan being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 9.

But Jordan made his USMNT debut in 2014, becoming the first college player to do so in a decade. He had opportunities to sign overseas but opted to stay with the Sounders while continuing to get called up for national team appearances. In 2017, Morris had the game-winning goal in the 88th minute to help the USMNT win the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

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The tournament was the national arrival of Jorstian Mordan, too, as Roldan earned his first USMNT call-up. The pair were already roommates for Sounders road trips and continued for the national team, Morris helping his friend adjust.

“My first few camps, it took a while to get used to it and get used to the players,” Morris said. “But you’ve got to know you deserve to be here and just come in and play and work hard and enjoy it because it’s an awesome experience.”  

Embrace any role

The pairing of Morris and Roldan isn’t unique as there are three sets of teammates from the same club on the USMNT roster headed to Qatar. Morris and Roldan also join defenders Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador) and Nouhou (Cameroon) as Sounders players to make World Cup rosters — the most in franchise history. Ecuador kicks off the 32-team tournament against Qatar on Sunday at 8 a.m. PT. The championship match is slated for Dec. 18.

It is surprising that Morris and Roldan both made the cut. Not because of talent. USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter had them as part of his long-term plans since he was hired in December 2018.

Their injuries were the only deterrent. Morris suffered two ACL tears in four years, the second while on loan to Welsh side Swansea City AFC in February 2021 nearly shredding the ligaments in his knee.

Roldan was among Morris’ support system, his mother Ana bringing a batch of pupusas — Morris’ favorite — to his Santa Monica hotel where he had the procedure. Morris struggled in his first full MLS season after returning, scoring one goal in his final 12 matches as the Sounders missed the postseason for the first time in the club’s 14-year history.

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Meanwhile, Roldan underwent groin surgery in August due to a sports hernia. He couldn’t climb stairs and said he fought doubts he’d return to help the Sounders close the season, let alone make the World Cup roster. A disappointing outlook after teaming with Morris to help the Sounders win the CONCACAF Champions League title in May.

Berhalter seemed elated after a camp in Texas earlier this month where both showed they had regained their health. Morris is a physical winger who can catch a defender off-guard with his speed down the edge of the field, while Roldan is crafty and can play multiple positions.

“He feels a lot freer,” Dr. Michael Morris said. “I’m proud of him making that World Cup team, but the proudest thing I am about him is how hard he worked to get back to his previous level ability to play.”

But the combo might not log a minute in Qatar because of the USMNT’s depth. That’s where their “selflessness,” as team captain Walker Zimmerman said, is an asset for the roster.

“This country has such an inferiority complex still about Europe and European soccer,” Washington men’s soccer coach Jamie Clark said. “If a guy is playing well in Europe, they’ll just give him so much respect and credit — and there are unbelievable teams in Europe. But if a guy is doing well in MLS and in this country, it’s not viewed the same by the general public. It takes a brave coach like Gregg who’s seen both sides to value and respect what guys are doing in MLS and realize it will translate and they are ready for international play.

“There might be one or two more talented players out there that got left out because of these guys (Roldan and Morris) and what they’re really all about. They’ll embrace any role.”

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Be the change

The Jorstian Mordan backstory is a feel-good story amid atrocities that stain the World Cup in Qatar.

Fans and human rights activists are calling for people to boycott the games, claiming infrastructure for the tournament is on the blood of migrant workers while slamming the country’s persecution of LGBTQ+ rights along with inequalities against women. FIFA’s decision to award Qatar host rights has also been heavily scrutinized, with U.S. officials claiming representatives for the country bribed FIFA during the 2010 vote.

While Qatari officials have pushed back against a figure of 6,500 migrant deaths reported by The Guardian, it’s unclear how many workers were killed.

Napali construction workers Anil Kumar Pasman (2016) and Tej Narayan Tharu (2018) died while erecting the Al Janoub Stadium, where France and Australia will open World Cup play Tuesday. British construction worker Zachary Cox fell to his death during the build of Khalifa International Stadium in 2017. The first World Cup match there will be England versus Iran on Monday.

Morris said the USMNT plans to continue their push for equality while in Qatar, but the focus will be on the competition. The players started a “Be The Change” initiative during the civil uprising in 2020 to address gun violence and support the Black Lives Matter movement.

“As controversial as Qatar getting the World Cup is, that region as a whole needed to get a big soccer event somehow,” said Sounders keeper Stefan Frei. “We don’t have that much exposure to how many people in the Middle East love the game. … They deserve to celebrate such a big moment.”

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It’s super special

The last big batch of pupusas the duo shared was in December 2021. Ana stood in her kitchen slicing vegetables, sautéing meats and rolling masa into her delectable treat. Once again, the California home was brimming with hope.

Waiting for the hot plate while watching NFL games were Cesar, Cristian and four USMNT teammates in defenders Zimmerman and Aaron Long, keeper Matt Turner and, of course, Morris. The players were given a Sunday off, Cristian leading them 20 minutes north of the training site in Carson to his family home in Pico Rivera.

Everything was so uncertain then. It was Morris’ first call-up since rehabbing his second ACL tear and Zimmerman was the only consensus roster lock. They talked about being the players who would one day help get the USMNT out of the group stage and make a run at the country’s first men’s title.

Berhalter said building momentum in the USMNT’s first World Cup appearance since 2014 is essential since the country is linking with Canada and Mexico to host the event in 2026. Shows like the Emmy award-winning “Ted Lasso” have helped popularize soccer in the U.S.

Good-luck messages from the fictional coach can be seen displayed in the hometowns of each USMNT player, including a pair of billboards in Seattle. Morris’ message is displayed on a billboard in Sodo while Roldan’s is a banner hanging on his El Rancho High School.

Reaching the USMNT’s goal is a feat that could take the Jorstian Mordan tale global.

“Looking back on that message is pretty surreal to know that we’re going to a World Cup together,” Morris said. “It’s super special for both of us.”