The Sounders already had one huge anticlimax on their ledger this season, having absorbed a stunning CONCACAF Champions League loss to CD Olimpia at home Thursday.
What had seemed like a realistic shot for a run at that prestigious title was over before it really started, a bitter blow to all. And here they were on Sunday, possibly headed for another monumental letdown in their MLS opener.
Pumped up by the pomp and pride of raising their 2019 championship banner, buoyed by a robust crowd of 40,126 at CenturyLink Field, the Sounders nevertheless found themselves trailing to the Chicago Fire early in the second half.
But just when it seemed like the Sounders might find a way to top the disappointment of three days earlier, Jordan Morris happened.
Now 25 and starting his fifth MLS season, Morris put in two second-half goals, the final one coming three minutes into stoppage time to lift the Sounders to a 2-1 victory.
The boost Morris provided upon entering the game in the second half was palpable, as his speed allowed him to get behind the Chicago defense while creating space for his teammates. That was especially vital considering the Fire broke a scoreless tie with a goal just 43 seconds into the second half.
It was a cathartic result for the Sounders, who didn’t need to have people start talking once again about their propensity for slow starts. That’s a narrative they thought they put to rest last year.
And it was especially cathartic for Morris, who wasn’t pleased to start the game on the bench. With the short turnaround from Thursday’s match, Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer decided it wasn’t prudent to start Morris, who has been injury-prone in his career, so soon afterward.
Morris’s three-pronged response to that admittedly difficult decision delighted Schmetzer. He went from anger, to acceptance, to energizing the Sounders once he was unleashed in the second half.
“Jordan made some big strides over the course of the last 36 hours,’’ Schmetzer said. “When we first started the conversation of him starting on 2½ days’ rest, which is a tight turnaround for sprinters, he was actually pissed at me. He was upset. He was, like, no, coach, I want to play.
“We had a long conversation with the medical staff. I had to go with what I thought was best, because all players want to play. Then Jordan’s anger turned into, ‘OK, I’m a team guy, and I’m going to accept this decision.’ I could just tell when we had spoken to him about getting warmed up and he was going in at halftime, you could just see on his face he was motivated.”
Morris didn’t quite own up to being “pissed” at starting the game on the bench, but that might have been his decorum talking.
“I was a little frustrated,’’ he clarified. “It’s the first game, you always want to be out there. But I always respect the coaches, respect their decision, and do what’s best for the team. That was my role for today.”
Will Morris ever get to the point where the Sounders don’t have to be quite so mindful of his playing time on short rest? That’s the desire, but it might also be the case that Morris’ body type and playing style won’t allow it on a regular basis.
“I hope it gets to that point,’’ Morris said. “But I know the type of player I am. I have a little bit higher risk for muscle injuries. They talk to me about that all the time. It’s just an ongoing conversation. They’re always looking out for me, which I appreciate.”
It was the second straight season Morris had a two-goal opener for the Sounders. On Sunday, both of Morris’ goals were assisted by Cristian Roldan, his close friend. Morris almost returned the favor, assisting on an apparent goal by Roldan in the second half only to have it negated by an offside call.
But the rapport between those two continues to grow, an essential weapon as the Sounders integrate their new players, like Joao Paulo and Miguel Ibarra, and adjust to the absence of old ones like the injured Nicolas Lodeiro and Gustav Svensson.
“He’s a really creative player, and obviously, we have really good chemistry off the field,’’ Morris said of Roldan. “I think that translates to on the field as well, knowing each other’s movements.”
As Schmetzer pointed out, Ibarra could easily have been the hero of the game, had he been able to convert numerous scoring opportunities that went unfinished. But it was Morris who left the coach believing that a developmental step had been accomplished with the manner in which he responded to his nonstart.
“Whether that anger turned into motivation or whatever you want to call it, the kid was ready to play, and proved to me, the medical staff, whomever it was, that he can play and he can contribute on short rest,” Schmetzer said.
“As we keep developing and growing, I was most impressed with his mentality and attitude about the situation. He handled it in a very professional fashion.”
However, Schmetzer admitted that as the clock was winding down in stoppage time with a draw looking increasingly likely, he was concerned about another lackluster result, right on top of Thursday’s.
“That was exactly on my mind — ‘Can we get a last-minute goal? Can we send the fans home happy? Can we energize the team?’ I think that happened.”
Jordan Morris happened.