There have been various games where Jordan Morris has seemingly burst through a developmental wall. Against the Philadelphia Union, he scored his first professional goal, kickstarting a more confident style of play. The Portland Timbers home match saw him become a more physical presence. We saw him turn into a player capable of dominating a match against the LA Galaxy.
Sunday’s performance was another one of those games.
Against FC Dallas, Morris showcased a new skill-set that proved he can also be a threat coming from wide positions. Morris didn’t score, of course, but he had an assist, could have easily had two more, probably should have scored one of his own and was generally as dangerous as he’s been in any game since his brace against the Galaxy.
That he did it while playing as a left wing was no accident.
“Yeah I liked it,” Morris said. “I was playing kind of a little out of position, but staying a little bit higher. And I like it out there because there’s a little more space and you can get the ball and run at people. Nelson [Valdez] is more of a forward that likes to have his back to goal – that’s not as much me – so he did well holding the ball up there and it was good to get some space out wide and take people on to create some stuff.”
In the six games since Morris’ breakout performance against the Galaxy, teams seem to have made more of a concerted effort to cut off service. Morris has managed to influence games in other ways, but he’s been pushed into less dangerous spots. As a result, he had not scored and had just a single assist, while averaging just 1.0 shots per game and only setting up teammates for just three shots.
The nadir of that run was probably the Sporting Kansas City match when Morris completed just 11 passes, took just one shot and was forced to get many of his touches closer to midfield than around the penalty area.
Brian Schmetzer surely noticed, and while the decision to start Nelson Valdez was born out of more considerations than simply freeing up Morris, he acted accordingly.
This was the result: Morris completed 90 percent of his passes — probably a season high for Sounders attacking players — and generally tore apart the FC Dallas defense. His assist on Nicolas Lodeiro’s first goal was especially illustrative, as he got the ball on the wing, cut in and then carved up Matt Hedges before putting in a perfect left-footed cross that split the difference between Chris Seitz and Maynor Figueroa.
This is where we probably should give Sigi Schmid a little bit of credit, too. Schmid came under quite a bit of criticism for insisting on using Morris out wide early in the season. But Schmid always defended the decision, in part, because he knew Morris would be more effective the more versatile he was.
We basically saw that borne out against Dallas, whose 3-5-2 left the wings more exposed and Morris was in a prime position to exploit the space.
Having Valdez scoring goals obviously helps. But even if Valdez can’t continue his goal-scoring form, this is at least another club in the Sounders’ bag. Having the knowledge that Morris can be effective from wide positions is a huge advantage moving forward, and could be the key to unlocking this team’s short-term potential.
Glory on the left: As good as Morris was on the left wing, we should also point out that Joevin Jones was every bit as good behind him. It was, of course, Jones’ cross that set up Valdez’s opener and his through ball created Lodeiro’s second goal. In two games, Jones has three playoff assists. That’s already a Sounders record.
It wasn’t just how well he got forward, either. Jones was credited with eight recoveries, two interceptions, and a clearance. We’ve always known that Jones is dangerous going forward, but we’re also seeing a far more sound defensive player too.
There’s no denying that Jones is still prone to the aimless cross and doesn’t always make the best decisions either going forward or on defense, but he’s quickly developing into one of the top left backs in MLS and it’s hard to imagine the Sounders being in this position without him.
Can’t stop talking about Stefan: Much has been said about Stefan Frei’s performances of late, and truth be told he didn’t have a ton to do in this one. But Frei made the three saves he had to make and was generally a calming influence, claiming everything near him and not giving FC Dallas opportunities at loose balls in the box.
He was also credited with his third postseason shutout, which set a franchise record. Dating back to the regular season, he now has five shutouts in his past nine appearances and the Sounders have allowed just three goals in their past seven games.
Designated Players scoring when it counts: Say what you will about the Sounders’ history of DP signings, but up until last year they had a very spotty postseason scoring record. From 2009-2013, the Sounders’ DPs had never scored in the playoffs. In 2014, they got two goals from DPs (Osvaldo Alonso and Dempsey) and last year they got three (Dempsey twice and Valdez). This year, Sounders DPs already have four goals (two apiece by Lodeiro and Valdez) in just two games.
To win an MLS Cup, any team needs contributions from multiple players, but it sure does make things easier when the guys you’re paying the most are doing their fair share.