Regular readers of this website are surely well versed in Jordan Morris’ origin story. But outside the Seattle Sounders fanbase, I suspect much less is known. Even if you’re already familiar with Morris’ career, his move to Swansea City is a good time to look back on how he got to this point and to examine some of the narratives that picked up steam along the way.
A loyalty streak that runs deep
Perhaps the first thing you should know about Morris is that switching clubs is not something he does lightly. Even as a youth, he remained at the relatively small Eastside FC rather than move to a higher-level club until he joined the Sounders Academy as a high school senior. Morris was so good that year — scoring 27 goals in 28 USSDA matches — that the Sounders made sure he knew he had a standing offer for a pro contract whenever he was ready. While he was dominating the Academy system, he was also dominating high school soccer, winning the Washington State Gatorade Player of the Year with 21 goals and 15 assists in 16 games.
He then went to college at Stanford, where he spent three years, only leaving after he delivered the school’s first-ever men’s soccer title. While at Stanford, he was good enough to become the first collegian to be capped with the senior United States men’s national team since MLS began.
Then-USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann urged him to skip MLS and go to Germany, where he even set Morris up with a trial at Bundesliga side Werder Bremen. Morris impressed well enough during the trial to get a contract offer, but opted to join his hometown Sounders where he played five years and only left after winning two titles.
In other words, the smart money is that Morris is going to Swansea with the idea he’s going to stick around, assuming all goes well.
He’s overcome some real challenges
It’s often said that soccer is a working man’s game, which helps explain why so many of the world’s best players rose from poverty. That’s also said to be one of the problems with American soccer, that it’s often more of a game for middle- and upper-class kids due to the pay-to-play structure at the youth level and the reliance on college as part of the developmental system.
In a sense, Morris is emblematic of that. He grew up in the tony Seattle suburb of Mercer Island, is the son of a doctor, and went to a ritzy college.
But that also ignores some of the very real challenges he’s faced along the way. The biggest is that he was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes as a 9-year-old and has been forced to live a considerably more disciplined lifestyle than most people his age. He also suffered a torn ACL that cost him virtually all of 2018, only to come back an even better player than he was before.
Morris is not a player who should be easily overwhelmed by the need to fight for his spot or the pressure of a promotion battle.
Reports of his one-footedness are vastly overstated
One of the funniest things to watch over the past week or so is how much Swansea fans marvel at Morris’ left foot, only for them to discover that has been the most maligned part of his game. The confusion is not remotely surprising.
To understand this dichotomy, you must first appreciate how odd the American soccer community can be. From the moment Morris scored against Mexico in his USMNT starting debut, he was anointed the long-heralded savior of American soccer. That he went to college instead of turning pro was an obvious mark against him. When he chose MLS over the Bundesliga, it was a virtual betrayal.
It also didn’t help that fellow national-teamers like Jermaine Jones and Eddie Johnson were joining the chorus of critics.
I suspect this frustration with Morris’ career choices has driven a good deal of the more biting criticism, including the time ESPN’s Taylor Twellman literally asked him, “So, do you have a left foot?”
Like most players, Morris has a preferred foot. In his case, it’s his right. It’s certainly true that he’s often showed a desire to use the outside of his right, even when it seems a left-footed attempt would be easier, but he insists that’s a result of his natural pigeon-toe.
The above video offers a pretty compelling counter-narrative, such that I think you can now say that Morris’ “off foot” is at least on par with most elite players. That’s especially true since he returned from his ACL injury. Over the past two years, Morris has scored nine left-footed goals, compared to 14 right-footed goals. More than that, he’s also developed a solid left-footed cross and doesn’t seem particularly disinclined to use it in open play, either.
He will definitely “run right by him”
Looking at Morris, he’s pretty unassuming. The “awe shucks” attitude, his tendency to deflect compliments, and his “boy next door” looks all point away from “world-class athlete.” But to watch him play is to put aside the question, “what if America’s best athletes played soccer?”
From the moment Morris hit the big stage, his speed and power have stood out. It’s probably best exemplified by a play against the LA Galaxy in his rookie year when he posterized defender Daniel Steres, prompting Twellman to bellow the instant meme, “Daniel Steres has perfect position and he runs right by him. He runs right be him!”
Happy 4th birthday (2 days ago) to the best moment in Jordan Morris and TT history. Fitting that we played and beat LA Galaxy... again.#RRBH pic.twitter.com/VSvUYNv4nS— Emily Cummings (@emilyrcummings) September 28, 2020
There is no shortage of other examples of Morris basically hitting the turbo button and leaving defenders slamming their controllers to the ground. There are plenty of questions about how Morris’ game will translate to the Championship, but I think the bigger question will be how the defenders plan to keep him in front of them.
He’s big on community
Perhaps the most endearing thing about Morris is how genuine he seems. Over the years, this has been one of the things his critics have used against him — how he turned down Werder Bremen because he had a new puppy and wanted to live at home; how he lacked the killer instinct that the greatest players possess; how he’s just too nice.
But those are also the characteristics that make him so fun to root for. Morris isn’t just a player who learned to thrive with Type-1 diabetes, he’s an outspoken champion of raising awareness of the disease and even started a foundation dedicated to the cause. Morris is a regular at the local children’s hospital and has been a particularly public ally to the Black Lives Matter cause. Morris is probably the last player you’d ever expect to be in the headlines for some sort of bad behavior.
It’s been said that he sometimes is a bit too prone to wearing his emotions on his sleeve, but like many dings on him that’s probably been a bit overstated, and in any case, he’s gotten much better about exuding positive body language over the years.
If you’re a Swans fan only now finding about who this kid is, consider yourself lucky. You’ve got a good one.