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Jordan Morris channels frustration into starring role

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Season-opening brace comes after Morris starts on bench.

Cortney White / Sounders FC Communications

SEATTLE — Brian Schmetzer often talks about the hardest part of his job being when he has to tell a player who believes they should be starting that they aren’t. The Seattle Sounders head coach had one such conversation the other day, when he had to inform Jordan Morris that he wouldn’t be starting the MLS opener on Sunday.

The reasoning was one of pragmatism and born out of caution, Schmetzer explained. The medical data apparently suggested that someone like Morris — who often uses powerful bursts of speed — might be more prone to injury on short rest.

“He was actually pissed at me,” Schmetzer told reporters in the post-match press conference. “He said, ‘No coach, I want to play.’ But we had a long talk with the medical staff and I had to go with what I thought was best, because all players want play.”

By Sunday, though, Morris had apparently come to terms with Schmetzer’s decision and was determined to make an impact with whatever time he was given. In fact, Morris played like someone making up for lost time when he entered at halftime. Not only did he score the Sounders’ two goals — including a 93rd minute game-winner — but he probably should have had at least a couple assists, including one on Cristian Roldan’s goal which was called back by VAR for offside.

“I could just tell when I had spoken to him about warming up and he was going in at halftime — you could just see on his face that he was motivated,” Schmetzer said. “Now whether that anger turned into motivation or whatever you want to call it, that kid was ready to play and prove to me, the medical staff, whomever it was that he can play and he can contribute on short rest.

“I was most impressed by his attitude and his mentality about the situation. He handled it in a very professional fashion and he delivered.”

Never one to second guess just about anyone in public, Morris played down any hard feelings.

“I always respect the coach’s decision,” Morris said. “I’m a guy that likes to be on the field, so it’s always a little bit frustrating to not be out there and I completely understand the reasoning and appreciate them looking out for me.”

Morris has managed to remain remarkably healthy since returning from the ACL tear that cost him all of 2018. Between the Sounders and the United States men’s national team, Morris logged more than 3,100 minutes in 44 appearances last year despite both teams being careful not to overwork him.

Perhaps connected to his confidence in his body, Morris’ performances have also grown more dominant. Over his last 19 MLS appearances — which includes four playoff games — Morris has 11 goals and seven assists. Projected over a whole MLS season, Morris could top 30 combined goals and assists. Obafemi Martins is the only player in Sounders history to manage that in a single season.

Like Martins, Morris has a combination of speed and power that is almost impossible for opposing defenses to completely handle. Against the Fire, Morris was constantly breaking into the box off the left wing. In the 56th minute, he set up Cristian Roldan with a left-footed cross that looked to have equalized the game only for VAR to overturn the goal for offside earlier in the buildup. A couple minutes later, another left-footed cross from Morris set up Miguel Ibarra for a chance at an open goal, only for the shot to be lofted over the crossbar.

Not to be denied, Morris cut in front of a defender to score the equalizer on a Roldan cross. Morris then channeled some creativity in the 72nd minute when his scoop pass put Kelvin Leerdam in on goal, only to see the chance wasted when Raúl Ruidíaz couldn’t finish.

The winner eventually came in the 93rd minute when Morris found himself all alone at the back post, where he redirected a Roldan header into the net for his second straight season-opening brace. By the time Morris was finished, those chances added up to about 1.85 xG of the Sounders’ team total of 3.7, despite playing just 45 minutes, according to the app InfoGol.

“He elevated his performance,” Roldan said of his good friend. “Obviously I’m sure Jordan wished he would have started the game, but good players find a way to make an impact in the game even if they are coming off the bench.

“He made the most of his opportunities and could have had an assist as well. Fantastic all-around game. It’s going to be a big year for him.”