There are only so many lessons to be learned in any game against semi-professional competition. And let’s get this out of the way immediately: That’s basically what Martinique is, being that only a few players on the squad are full-time professionals.
Seen only through that lens, it’s perfectly fair to consider the United States’ 3-2 win on Wednesday disappointing. Say what you will about the roster Bruce Arena selected, but everyone on it is a full-time professional playing meaningful minutes for their clubs.
If we focus it a bit more and look at individual performances, it’s not too hard to find players who did exactly what they needed to.
Jordan Morris’ two-goal performance would seem to meet that basic standard.
Just how endangered Morris’ place in the national team actually was is not exactly known, but considering his struggles for the Sounders (two goals in 16 appearances) and the fact he’d only started one game for the USMNT in the past year, it was at least fair to be asking the question. While scoring a brace against tiny Martinique doesn’t suddenly make him a lock for the 2018 World Cup, it was an undeniably positive sign for a player about whom many had started to question some previous assumptions.
Simply put, it was a reminder that Morris had not totally regressed to the timid and seemingly one-dimensional player who made his professional debut about 17 months ago.
The two goals were encouraging enough. On both, Morris made clever, well-timed runs and put away his chance. The first came off his much-maligned left foot, as he cut directly in front of the goalkeeper to put away Eric Lichaj’s cross.
The second featured even more of Morris’ skillset, as he collected on the wing, dribbled into a dangerous area, fed it wide to Gyasi Zardes and then perfectly timed a run that left him unmarked about 10 yards out. It wasn’t the most difficult finish, but he roofed his shot nonetheless.
Morris would end up with a club and country career-high seven shots, five of them on frame. He also had a couple key passes, was strong with his hold-up play and generally looked like the confident, smart player we were starting to see a lot of down the stretch last season and who had mostly been hiding as he battled an ankle injury earlier this year. He was, almost without a doubt, the USMNT’s best player and the primary reason the night wasn’t a complete disaster.
The downside to this performance might be that he’s likely punched his ticket for the knockout stage of the tournament, which would mean he likely misses a few more Sounders games. But if Morris returns to the Sounders with his chest puffed out and his nose for goal intact, it will have been a price worth paying.