Mercer Island native Jordan Morris made the most of his first start with the U.S. national team, scoring a goal in a friendly with Mexico on Wednesday.
With Wednesday’s United States-Mexico friendly looming barely a day away, U.S. men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann approached young forwards Jordan Morris and Gyasi Zardes prior to Tuesday’s final tuneup practice with typical nonchalance.
Good, Klinsmann said, you two are working together during drills. I want you to use today’s practice to starting building a relationship.
“Because,” came the kicker, “you’re both starting tomorrow.”
The full weight of Klinsmann’s words didn’t hit Morris until more than 24 hours later — maybe it was shock.
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Morris, a Stanford University sophomore, became the first collegiate player in nearly two decades to make a national-team appearance last November against Ireland. But the Mercer Island native’s decision to turn down a pro contract from his hometown Sounders appeared to most outsiders to put his USMNT status in jeopardy, given Klinsmann’s public instance that his players test themselves at the highest level possible.
Yet there Morris was, standing for the dueling national anthems in front of a rowdy, partisan Mexican crowd in San Antonio, Texas. A few hours later, Morris would take his chance, firing a redirected pass inside the right post for his first-ever international goal.
“That was one of the moments that’s you dream about,” Morris said by phone Thursday from Palo Alto, where he had to return for a Friday political science class. “That’s when it really sank in for me, that I was really going to play in this game.”
Morris’ first couple touches were uneasy, but the more he could show off his speed in the open field, the more he settled into the game.
His moment came four minutes after halftime, though Morris admits he’s hazy on the details. Though he’d had nearly a full day to reflect, the last thing he remembers clearly is the redirected pass falling directly into his path on the edge of the Mexican penalty box.
“It fell to me and it all happened so fast,” Morris said. “… From that point, I kind of lost control. I don’t really remember a lot of specifics but I remember when everybody was surrounding me, I thought, ‘Did that really just happen?’”
By the time Morris’ flying, fist-pumping celebration reached the sideline and the waiting arms of DeAndre Yedlin, another former Sounders Academy player, the Great American Hope hype machine was already churning into gear. Morris won’t turn 21 until October, still so young that he reportedly couldn’t be considered for the Budweiser Man of the Match Award because he’s still underage.
But just in case Morris needed reminding just how fleeting these shining national-team moments can be, especially for young American strikers, he needed look only to the U.S.’ second goal scorer of the night.
In the World Cup cycle since Juan Agudelo was christened a previous edition of the Great American Hope, he’s cycled through three MLS teams and two European ones before landing back in MLS with New England this winter.
Agudelo was six days shy of his 18th birthday when he scored in his debut against South Africa in 2010. He’s 22 now, but his game-clinching goal Wednesday was just his third for the U.S. team.
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said Thursday that he watched Wednesday’s game on delay, having not made it home in time to watch the kickoff in real time.
“I avoided the phone,” Schmid said, “which was hard to do, because my wife was texting and calling, ‘Why aren’t you answering the phone?’ I told her: ‘Don’t tell me about the game. I know I’m not up to where you’re at, I know something happened.’ ”
So while the rest of the national audience watched Morris wheel away in celebration, Schmid was still stuck in first half, watching his former academy kid run out his nerves.
“(Klinsmann) gave Jordan a tremendous opportunity,” Schmid said. “He threw Jordan into the pool. I always say, sometimes you throw them in there and see if they can swim or not.”
After the final whistle blew confirming the U.S. win and Schmid let down his guard, a text message from a friend finally made its way through his defenses.
The message was simple, and its gist summed up the Seattle soccer community’s night: “He swam.”