Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris was named Rookie of the Year for the 2016 MLS season, something that the player himself said “was one of my goals coming into the year.” Morris praised his fellow finalists, Keegan Rosenberry of the Philadelphia Union and Jack Harrison NYCFC, saying that it was “a huge honor” to be in their company.
Morris scored 12 goals and notched 4 assists in 34 games for Seattle in the 2016 regular season, which he said has “been tough and there have been ups and downs.” Despite the long, arduous season, Morris insists that he hasn’t really been burned out or felt like he’d hit a wall. In fact, he said that compared to college soccer, where “the season goes by too fast,” the chance to play soccer for such a long stretch of time was a nice change of pace. He said that “it’s nice to be constantly playing games and doing what you love.”
The ROTY award is judged by a combination of players, media, and club management, and Morris said that the recognition by his fellow players might be the most meaningful. Which is good, because he earned a whopping 47.7% of the players’ vote. “It’s awesome when your fellow players think you had a good season. That obviously means a lot to me, and I’m thankful to all those guys.”
One of those fellow players is his captain in Seattle, Brad Evans, who called the award “well deserved” and a “massive accomplishment” for Morris. Evans praised Morris’ current form, saying that “I think if he’s in the form that he is in now in the first 10, 12, 15 games he probably bangs in 25 goals.” Because Morris was the leading goalscorer and a key player for the Sounders throughout the season, Evans admitted that the team probably wouldn’t be in the position they’re in without the rookie.
Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer echoed Evans’ sentiments that the award was “well deserved,” despite the quality of his competition. But despite the “nice balance of candidates,” Schmetzer admitted that it makes sense to give the award “to the guy who scored 12 goals and is the big reason why we’re in the conference finals.” Just like with MVP candidates, Schmetzer said that it can be hard to judge the proper winner of such an award. “Is it about the guy who scores 26 or 28 goals? Or is it the guy who is most valuable to his team?” While Morris only scored 12 goals this season, Schmetzer said that his huge value to the team in their big run of form means that “he checks both boxes” for a good ROTY candidate.
Morris kicked off his goalscoring almost ironically, against Rosenberry and the Philadelphia Union in the Sounders’ 2-1 win back in April. This kicked off a record-breaking four-match scoring streak for Morris, but his best form didn’t really come until Schmetzer’s second game in charge. “I think that game in Orlando, when he was really able to make that connection with Dempsey and really had a good performance, I noticed his chest out a little bit,” Schmetzer said.
Evans also remembered that match as a turning point in Morris’ season. “I specifically remember the Orlando game when all three of them [Morris, Dempsey, Lodeiro] were on the field and everything started to click a little bit.” He said that gelling with Lodeiro and Dempsey brought out the best in Morris, which prepared him for when the team lost Dempsey for the season. After that, Evans said “he probably saw more of the ball, the team was more confident, and he started to play like we all knew that he should.”
Morris was a little more humble in recognizing his form, but he also pointed to the Orlando City match—where, it should be said, he notched two assists for Dempsey—as a big moment in his rookie season. He said that it was one of the first matches in which he really felt “comfortable” and like everything was clicking for himself and his teammates. Morris allowed himself a rare moment of pride when thinking about that match: “it was probably one of the first times I came off the field and thought that it was one of my more complete performances.”
Despite this impressive award, Morris’ season is still not over. He said that he felt good on Thursday, and that the medical staff has told him that his hamstring strain is “day to day” at this point. Schmetzer stressed that the coaches and medical staff are doing everything they can to get him ready for the first leg of the conference finals against the Colorado Rapids.