The risks aren’t unique to Sounders FC.
Anyone in Florida, as the state swells with new positive cases of COVID-19, is at risk. So, if a team is going to participate in Major League Soccer’s return to play amid the pandemic, the Sounders just wanted to make the trip worth the gamble.
Jordan Morris ensured that Sunday night.
The Sounders’ homegrown player, who’s also at-risk as a Type 1 diabetic, muscled in a breakaway goal in the 34th minute that put his team at ease in a must-win match against Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Coupled with goals from Nico Lodeiro and Raul Ruidiaz, the Sounders waltzed into the knockout rounds of the MLS is Back Tournament with a 3-0 win at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, which is southwest of Orlando, Florida.
“Getting those two early goals gave us some confidence to keep some possession, and we didn’t feel like we needed to rush things,” Morris said in a videoconference call with media. “We understand these moments and have been through them before. … No moment is too big for us.”
Winners of the MLS Cup last November, the Sounders (1-1-1) will know their next opponent after all tournament group play concludes Thursday. The Round of 16 begins Saturday.
The tournament’s format gives automatic berths to the top two finishers in the six groups and wild-card spots to the four best third-place finishers. The San Jose Earthquakes clinched the Group B title with a win against Chicago Fire FC on Sunday. The Sounders, who are second in the group with four points, will find out Thursday if they earned an automatic berth or are a wild card.
“It had nothing to do with whether we wanted to stay here or not, come home or not,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said via videoconference call with media. “It’s every single game of this club, we want to win. Simple as that. End of story.”
Lodeiro, playing in his third match of the season due to tendinitis, opened the scoring in the 16th minute by powering in a penalty kick. Whitecaps defender Jasser Khmiri was shown a yellow card for a handball in the box.
Morris tenderized Vancouver keeper Maxime Crepeau with three picturesque shot attempts before a rainbow pass from Lodeiro dropped at the foot of Morris. The forward increased his pace and held defender Jake Nerwinski off the ball to pin a shot past Crepeau.
Ruidiaz shut the door on Vancouver — which also needed a win to stay alive in the tournament — with a tap-in goal in the 51st minute. Morris and midfielder Handwalla Bwana were given the assist.
“We’re looking more how we want when we were champions last year,” said Lodeiro as translated from Spanish via videoconference call with media. “With Jordan moving and Raul scoring and me making assists, it’s great. It gives us confidence. We need to keep improving because we know other teams are playing better [too].”
Schmetzer made three lineup changes for the Vancouver match. Morris was back on the left wing after subbing in at halftime in the loss to Chicago on Tuesday. The decision regarding Morris on Tuesday was precautionary given his history with injuries. There was also a quick turnaround from his start in the July 10 tournament opener.
An injury to center back Yeimar Gomez Andrade (hamstring) moved Shane O’Neill into that spot. Bwana started on the right wing in place of homegrown midfielder Shandon Hopeau.
The Cascadia matchup doesn’t count toward the derby Cup, but MLS agreed to count group-play matches toward regular-season standings, should the league hold one this fall. Seattle is unbeaten in the past seven matches against Vancouver.
The Whitecaps conclude group play Thursday against Chicago.