In his first preseason interview, Brian Schmetzer seemed to indicate that the Sounders would allow Morris to develop in one position this coming season. That position, Schmetzer stated, would most likely be as a striker or CF.
Of course, this is not a position foreign to Morris. In his rookie season, Morris played the majority of his minutes at CF, starting a total of 38 games between the regular season and playoffs. He scored 14 goals and notched an additional 5 assists on his way to winning both the rookie of the year award and MLS Cup.
In his sophomore season, however, Morris struggled both with injuries and form. A mixture of both saw his minutes diminish as a CF, as Bruin was given additional starts and Morris was pushed out to the wing more frequently. Jordan finished the season with a measly 3 goals and 1 assist.
Now in his third year, Morris looks like he has the inside track for the starting CF role. While the Sounders seem to be actively pursuing players this window, there have been no indications that they have plans to sign a striker. Thus, seemingly, the coaching staff are hoping to continue fine-tuning Morris’ skillset as a CF. Here, we will discuss how they can do just that.
Being An Outlet
As has been discussed ad nauseam by many on this site, the Sounders have a number of rangy, free floating attacking midfielders. Dempsey, Lodeiro, and Rodriguez are all players who love to find spaces between the lines where they can combine and interchange. Almost always, these three players are on the move in order to pick up the ball and move it along quickly. For the Sounders, that typically means free flowing combinations in which one of these players is able to pick up the ball somewhere beyond the midfield line in order to drive at the back 4 (or 3 or 5 in some cases).
For all of these players quality, however, there remains one distinct deficiency: speed. None of these three can dribble beyond defenders consistently. Often, they lack the elusive speed to even remain in front of the midfielders chasing them down from behind.
Thus, we see that Morris has an important role to play in the Sounders tactical system. In order to keep a movement or passing sequence going forward, Morris must become a reliable outlet. The right type of movement can allow the attacking midfielders to play to his feet or into space in order to prevent both dispossession and ball stagnation.
Here, we can see VRod emerge from a scramble. While he's able to initially create some space for himself with a large forward touch, Jermaine Jones is over quickly to close down the space. Morris, in this sequence, waits for VRod to make a play with the ball, making a slightly angled run away from the ball. In Morris development, however, these are the types of sequences where he must become an option, or outlet, off the ball. An angled run into the space behind the CBs allows VRod to knock the ball down the line. From there, Morris can hold the ball and allow the team to come forward or, as I'll discuss later, face up and take on the CB 1 vs. 1 down the wing.
Again, we see another example of Morris' unwillingness to make an inside to out run down the left channel. Instead, he waits for VRod to move into the space, ultimately allowing Jones to track back and recover.
Perhaps the perfect example of Morris' unwillingness to be an outlet is this sequence in which Roldan emerges away from Alessandrini down the touch line. Morris' first instinct is forwards (which we will discuss later) rather than back into the space for a layoff. In fact, one can hardly even see him on camera. Instead of presenting Roldan with the much easier pass, Morris makes a run requiring a 30 yard curling left footed or outside of the right foot ball into space.
Combination in the Final Third
One of the cornerstones of the Dempsey-Oba era was their sublime understanding of each others movements in and around opponents' boxes. Both were constantly looking to play to one another's feet. In effect, each took turns acting as a fulcrum. Morris is certainly no Obafemi Martins. However, he still has the foot skills and technical ability to receive the ball around the box.
The more comfortable that Morris becomes at making himself an option in the final third, the more comfort others will have adapting to his movement. Here Morris lays the ball off excellently. However, not expecting the pass, Morris doesn't know where to move once he does lay it off. It's this lack of comfort in combination that can often bog the Sounders down around the area. If Jordan can improve his movement as an option to receive the ball to feet in the final third, creative options will begin to open up for the guys behind him.
Delaying Runs in Behind
This goes nearly hand in hand with the above qualities. Jordan's first tendency is often to run in behind. He's one of the best in MLS in doing so and his speed and strength mean that NOT doing so would be a terrible mis-use of his most outstanding attributes. However, that tendency often leads to Morris straying offside too quickly.
Morris begins his run before Dempsey has received the ball. By the time Dempsey does touch the ball, Morris is coming BACK from an offside position. Morris does a good job of making himself available for the pass from Dempsey. Still, by holding his run, Morris can give the player on the ball more options and perhaps even allow Morris a better opportunity to run into different gaps.
By delaying his runs/tendency to drift towards the goal as shown numerous times, Morris will allow himself greater opportunities to be purposeful with his movement. The offside goal scored at the 20th minute mark is a great example of the right type of run from Morris.
Floating to the Wings
While Morris' primary job as the CF is to hold up play and make defense splitting runs, he occasionally must learn to float to the wings. This is especially true when Lodeiro and VRod come infield.
Here, we see an excellent bit of play from Morris. He recognizes that the move has stalled, checks to the wings, and then takes on the defender before splaying a beautiful curling ball across the 6 yard box despite no one crashing the area.
Morris skills on the wing can still improve however. When Morris does find himself in a wider position, he must learn how to make angled runs behind fullbacks.
Morris misses two opportunities to dive into the space behind Diallo. First, when he doesn't look across the line and see how deep Cole and the CBs have dropped. Second, when he is slow to take advantage of Lodeiro pulling two players infield in order to run towards the endline.
While this example is not quite as glaring or necessarily "bad", Morris again is slow to react to the movement of Dempsey ahead of him who pulls open a space between Diallo and Steres. Morris has the speed to exploit fullbacks who do not adequately cover spaces left next to CBs. If Morris is making his run as the pass is traveling toward VRod, he gives VRod an opportunity to get the ball out of his feet and play a defense splitting pass.
Jordan Morris clearly has the physical tools to be one of the best strikers in MLS. He has speed, strength, and solid technical ability. A lot of improvement can be had by simply deferring less and demanding the ball in good areas. While he may not improve all facets of his game in 2018, more consistency in his movement and mindset should yield results and ultimately goals in 2018.
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