TUKWILA, Wash. — The combination of damp air and slight wind made it seem considerably colder than the mid-40s the thermometer claimed it to be. The hundred or so fans and couple dozen members of the media stuffed their hands into the pockets of winter jackets and wrapped scarves around their necks.
Jordan Morris, though, danced around the practice pitch in short sleeves, a smile stretching from ear to ear.
“It feels amazing,” Morris said after his first official day of full training in about 10 months. “It’s been a really long year and every day I came in and just wished I could be out here, so stepping onto the field for the first training session feels great.”
There were times during both his rookie season and in 2017 when Morris’ on-field struggles clearly weighed on him. But any negative emotions he felt then clearly paled in comparison to what he went through last season, when he missed virtually the entire campaign after tearing his ACL in the first game.
“It was very tough,” he said. “The physical part was tough with rehabbing the knee but the mental part of being out every day, wanting to be playing, having to miss the road trips, it was really tough. There were some tough times I went through. But being surrounded by friends and family and a great organization, they were always there for me. I’m just excited it’s over and glad to be back.”
Despite the lost time, the Sounders are apparently convinced Morris has made a full recovery. The 24-year-old was given a long-term extension that could stretch as long as five years and average out to about $1 million per year if he hits the various performance incentives.
In another sign of how confident they are in Morris’ recovery, the front office seems content to go into the season with him as a key component of the offense.
“We made a big investment in Jordan, so we’re going to give him a chance,” Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey said. “If we get to the summer, then we have the ability to do something different. But signing a player to block Jordan doesn’t make a lot of sense after signing him for five years.
“What’s the thing we lacked? Speed. What’s the thing he has? Speed. We don’t need him to cut in from the left and score. We need him to be the fastest guy on the field and get in behind. If he does that, there are going to be massive spaces for (others) to run into.”
Morris will be joining an attack that scored 40 goals in the 18 matches after Raúl Ruidíaz made his debut. The working assumption is that Morris will effectively replace Cristian Roldan, who will slide back to his more natural spot in the defensive midfield. Head coach Brian Schmetzer wasn’t quite ready to commit to any particular role, but is obviously intrigued by the possibilities.
“He was happy to be out here, but the coaching staff was happy, too,” Schmetzer said. “We haven’t really looked at that other than drawings on the board. On the field, it looks different. Until we actually get him out there in a preseason match, it will be tough to talk intelligently about that.”
At this point, Morris said he’s not concerning himself with where he’ll play. He’s mostly just happy that he’ll be playing at all.
“It’s been so long since I’ve been on the field,” he said. “I was driving by the stadium today and picturing what it will be like to play my first game. I couldn’t be more excited to prove myself.
“I love this team, love this city. I think we have a championship-quality team and I want to push for that over the next few years. It’s a huge honor that the Sounders believe in me. I appreciate that the front office and the coaching staff helped me through that and want me to be here. It’s a city I grew up in and to have that respect from the coaches and front office to want me here it means a lot. It’s a huge honor.”