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Jordan Morris at peace with his place in soccer world

In an interview with Sounder at Heart, Morris expresses his trademark quiet confidence.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

With the pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests, a fraught political process, transfer rumors and constant stream of debate over whether he deserves a starting spot in the United States men’s national team, I had a lot of questions for Jordan Morris when we digitally sat down for an interview. I prepped hard-hitting questions like, “Are you working on your dance moves now that Roman Torres is back in the locker room?” and “What side dish are you bringing to the first post-COVID barbecue? (Answers: No and fruit salad, respectively).

Jordan picked up the 2020 season right where he left off in 2019: giving right backs across the league nightmares about trying to keep pace with him. He was a force when he came into the league in 2016 and he came back from his ACL injury and full year of rehab an even more dominant player. You can see it in the stats, and when you watch him play it’s obvious that he is a more developed, more versatile player than he was four years ago.

When he returned to play after his ACL injury we all talked about the development of his left foot, which he did specifically work on while he rehabbed, but that wasn’t his focus while he was away from the game.

“I grew mentally more than anything else during that time,” Morris said. “I’d drive by the stadium every day on the way to training at Starfire and I just missed playing games in front of the fans so much that I was driven to come back in the best form I could. And when you hear people say that you come back stronger from an injury, that’s really true. I spent so much time in the gym and was so focused getting muscles around the knee stronger that I just came back bigger and stronger.

“But again, I had this new fire inside me to go out and prove to everyone and to myself that I would be a better player coming back. I think I developed mentally more than anything. Rehabbing is challenging. You have to be mentally strong to get through it.”

As much as we’ve seen his game develop and evolve, and especially if you listen to his USMNT critics, there are still aspects of his game that Morris can work on. So what is his focus in training this season?

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

“I’m still really focused on the mental side of the game, especially making better decisions in the final third, whether it’s to set up a teammate or get a shot of my own. Being clean in front of goal and creating better crosses. That’s something I’ve gotten better at but just really want to keep improving.

“I’m also trying to get better at cutting in from the left side and finishing myself rather than always just trying to beat my defender and putting in a cross.”

If I’m a right back reading this I get a little antsy. The only way to defend against speed is to give space so you don’t get left behind, but if you leave space you give Jordan the opportunity to cut inside of you. There are no good answers.

The same detractors who say Jordan’s game is lacking in certain areas — which Jordan says he pays very little attention to — claim that he needs to take his game overseas to develop into the type of player the USMNT needs. So let’s start with that premise.

The quality of play in MLS has clearly and obviously improved over the four years since Jordan got to the Sounders. Is MLS at the level of the top English or German leagues? No. But does a player like Morris really need to play in Europe in order for his career to be considered complete? In the midst of yet another transfer rumor — this time to Preston North End — I asked Jordan about playing in his hometown and the pull to playing overseas.

“To be honest I don’t track it a lot. I know everyone has their opinion on whether I should have gone when I signed with the Sounders, but I’m super happy in Seattle and think I’ve developed really well here. But that’s not to say I wouldn’t be ready for a challenge if the right opportunity came. Of course my focus is on the Sounders and winning another championship. If something intriguing came along I’d consider it.”

I like this attitude from a homegrown player. As his game develops I think we realize the offers from European clubs will increase. And the Sounders will clearly have a price that they would want for their star winger, but Jordan is just turning 26 in October and could conceivably do a stint overseas and still return to the Sounders to close out his career in MLS. Given the Sounders’ proclivity for bringing back former players, I see this as a very likely scenario. None of us want to see him go, but I don’t think we can question his commitment to the Sounders and the city of Seattle.

Of course it wouldn’t be an interview in 2020 without talking about the pandemic and social unrest. So that’s where we turned next.

Listening to Jordan talk about the challenges of Covid-19 and quarantine life is oddly reassuring. Jordan is feeling what we all are — we’re fatigued by the lockdowns, we’re tired of missing out on the things in life we took for granted seven months ago. Morris admits that he is lucky.

“At least I get to go to work and do what I love doing. I get to go to training and play in games. But when we’re home, we’re just home. It’s mentally challenging. It’s been a tough year for a lot of reasons and everyone’s getting burnt out. The days are the same. The routines are the same. You see the same people. … I’m thankful to be back playing, and going to practice in a safe way provides a break from the routine. It makes things seem a little more normal.”

How much do they miss the fans?

“Now that it’s been taken away, it’s very clear how important the fans are with the noise and the support. We miss it a lot.”

So do we, Jordan. So do we.

MLS and the Sounders have done a great job showcasing Black Lives Matter and using their platform to show support for the social movement in general. I asked Jordan about his role in that fight as a white player from a mostly white suburb of Seattle.

“I try to listen, first of all. That’s the first step. All of this has been going on for way too long and I think as athletes we see Lebron James and other players in the NBA being told to ‘shut up and dribble’ and that our role is just to be a spectacle for viewers. But as athletes we have a platform to make our voices heard and I think it’s important to use that platform. That’s what I want to do individually and what we’ve been doing as a team: trying to use our voices to bring about change. Athletes are humans too, and have the ability to use their platforms in a really positive way.”

Mike Russell / Sounder at Heart

With time running down on our scheduled chat, we switched to a lightning round to make sure I asked all the questions we’d ever want the answers to. You can learn some amazing things about athletes when you ask the right questions.

For example, Jordan’s favorite Sounders kit? Nightfall.

Video games or television? “Can I say both?” You just did, Jordan. Both it is.

Would he rather score on an assist from his pal Cristian Roldan or assist a Cristian Roldan goal? He definitely had to think about this one, but at the end of the day he’s a goal scorer, so sorry Cristian, Jordan’s taking the glory.

In a scenario where he isn’t playing, he would like to watch a match from the ECS section rather than in a suite. Good man.

I can’t wait until we can finally get together and have that first post-Covid barbecue. Jordan is bringing fruit salad. I’ll bring the chips. What are you bringing? Remember, Jordan is on an intense low-carb diet to help manage his Type-1 diabetes, so keep that in mind when you’re planning your menu.

And about that dancing thing? I had some parting advice for the young winger: take some dance lessons before your wedding. You won’t regret it and we will all appreciate the new locker room dance-offs just a little bit more.

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