TUKWILA — Jordan Morris said the magic words in late July, after a win against defending MLS Cup champion Atlanta United: “I consider myself a winger.”
Morris shedding his identity as strictly a forward to embrace playing on the wing is a big reason why his club is competing for the league championship Sunday. The Sounders will host Toronto FC before a sold out CenturyLink Field at noon.
“Growing up here, it’s something I’ve always dreamed of,” said Morris, a Mercer Island native. “It’s real exciting and you feel the buzz already going around the city.”
Those dreams had Morris at the forward position, receiving passes to break down defenders and score from up top. The reality has been so much different to reach this point, beginning with soccer being taken away from him after an injury-riddled 2017 season was followed by suffering a torn ACL in 2018.
Morris missed the entire year, including opportunities to suit up for the U.S. men’s national team during the FIFA World Cup qualifiers. The monotonous routine of rehabilitating the knee injury and several setbacks was compounded by being told he’d permanently transition to the wing with the Sounders signing Peruvian striker Raul Ruidiaz in June 2018.
But nothing deterred Morris from his objective to simply break back into the starting lineup and stay there. By July, his return felt complete when he shared a conversation he had with former Sounders winger Steve Zakuani.
“He said I need to embrace being a winger,” Morris recalled after his performance against Atlanta, where he raced down the right flank to capitalize on a defender’s error, sending a right-footed cross into open space for teammate Harry Shipp to bounce a game-winning header into the net in the 71st minute.
“The last couple of years, I was more of a forward out wide,” the 25-year-old Morris continued. “I wanted to be up front, and I didn’t enjoy myself out wide. But now I’m really enjoying myself. I consider myself a winger.”
The Sounders finished the regular season at 8-1-2 when Morris recorded a goal or an assist. And he was announced as MLS’s Comeback Player of the Year recipient after scoring his career-first hat trick in a 4-3 playoff win against FC Dallas at CenturyLink Field. The third goal was the winner in the 113th minute after moments earlier Morris sat on the turf wondering if he could move because of cramps in his legs.
“We’ve got the best Jordan Morris we’ve ever seen right now,” said Garth Lagerwey, Sounders general manager and president of soccer. “Now we can score in a whole bunch of different ways. Jordan can strike fear even from a spacing perspective. That creates more room for (midfielder) Nico (Lodeiro) to operate. That creates more room for Raul to operate.”
What might be most impressive about Morris is how through all the changes and injuries, he’s dealt with a life-threatening constant discovered at age 9 in having Type 1 diabetes. The disease means Morris’ pancreas doesn’t produce insulin. When most people eat, nutrients and sugars enter the blood stream and insulin absorbs those for the body, creating energy. Morris was fitted with a small pump to mimic this process throughout the day, the athlete always needing to be mindful of what he eats and when.
“The jump from the college to the professional level was difficult in some ways because the adrenaline level of playing affects it a little bit,” said Morris, who was signed as a Homegrown Player by the Sounders in 2016 after starring at Stanford. “I had to figure out how to manage that. Coming back this year has been a big one where I’ve felt really good and I don’t feel it affecting me.”
Morris started a namesake foundation in 2017 to help kids also adjust to living with Type 1 diabetes. He’s hosted more than 50 “T1D Playmakers” after Sounders road and home matches, most often sharing tips on how he handles his sugar levels to compete.
But if you catch Morris with one of the kids, it’s really his actions that resonate anything is possible if you embrace the challenge.
“He really evokes the values of the city,” Lagerwey said. “I think that’s why the crowd gets behind him and man, it’s going to be fun to have 69,000 people cheering for him when he goes on a breakaway in the final.”
That’s the magic of a winger.