Jordan Morris sat in the middle of CenturyLink Field while an MLS Cup playoff match swirled around him Saturday.
Would the Sounders FC forward get up? Could he get up?
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer contemplated substituting his star out of the game before overtime against FC Dallas in a in Western Conference playoff opener. But in MLS’ new single-elimination format, there’s no room for gambling. Morris could either take a Sunday ice bath as a winner or mark it as the beginning of his offseason.
Once Morris did get up — saying it was cramps that forced him to the turf — he ran to the box intending to score and prevent a 3-3 deadlock with Dallas from going to a shootout. The first attempt was muffed, but the second, a header off a deflection from the left side, bounced into the net in the 113th minute.
The goal completed a hat trick for Morris and ultimately was the winner, putting the second-seeded Sounders into the conference semifinals with a dramatic 4-3 win in overtime.
“It’s been a long week,” said Morris, who was among eight Sounders called up to international duty. His U.S. men’s national team lost a match in Toronto on Tuesday, giving him two days of training with the Sounders since the Oct. 6 regular-season finale.
“Fortunately the ball bounced my way,” Morris continued. “It’s all about the team winning and me doing my part to help the team win. … It was intense.”
Mayhem ensued from the opening whistle. The league’s biggest postseason change in its 24-year history intensified everything, including the announced crowd of 37,722. No more aggregate scoring. No more second chances with each opponent hosting a match.
The Sounders built a quick 2-0 lead in the first half. But a youthful FCD side wasn’t deterred at all. The seventh-seeded visitors huddled on the field after the second goal and clawed to find opportunities to score.
Morris thought he nailed the game-winner from his backside with his left toe in the 74th minute. But, as they often did against opponents during the regular season, the Sounders allowed FC Dallas to get in position for a quick goal in response.
Midfielder Bryan Acosta was the culprit, sending a header over Sounders keeper Stefan Frei’s grasp for the equalizer, 3-3, in the 82nd minute. The game went into extra time with two 15-minute halves and a fourth substitution.
“Faith,” Schmetzer said of why he didn’t make his final two substitutions until the last 10 minutes of the match. “We were starting to think about penalty (kicks) and stuff like that. That was my choice. Certainly guys have heavy legs and you think you can bring a fresh guy on; that’s why it’s a team sport.
“I was going to pull Jordan earlier. And I didn’t pull Jordan, and what did he do? He scores the winner.”
Frei assured his team of a chance to win by collecting five saves — all in overtime. His fifth was in front of the right corner of the box off midfielder Paxton Pomykal’s left-footed attempt in the 120th minute.
The Sounders, as the West’s No. 2 seed, will host the conference semifinals Wednesday at 7 p.m. against third-seeded Real Salt Lake, which beat sixth-seeded Portland 2-1 on Saturday night.
“It was a strange game,” Frei said. “We should almost be thankful that we were still playing having conceded three goals. (I) was staying engaged, treating every ball and every movement with the utmost respect and (making) the save when called upon. I’m happy I was able to help the team out at some point.”
Raul Ruidiaz received a cross from midfielder Cristian Roldan and whipped an attempt from 25 yards out for the first goal of the match. FCD goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez reacted too late to protect the net, and the score ended a five-game drought for Ruidiaz.
Morris followed with his first goal in the 22nd minute. The Mercer Island native broke past the FCD’s defense to send a left-footed shot from inside the box into the goal.
After their huddle, Dallas defender Reggie Cannon put the club on the board with a goal in the 39th minute, and teammate Matt Hedges nailed the brace in the 63rd. Both scores were setup by corner kicks.
Morris scored his second goal in the 74th minute as the Sounders regained the lead. It was short lived as Acosta’s equalizer, which ultimately sent the game into overtime, came eight minutes later.
“Dallas put us under pressure at the beginning of the second half where I thought we lost some control of the game,” Schmetzer said. “(We) figured out a way how to win. It wasn’t pretty but it certainly was an exciting game.”