Jennifer Buchanan/Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
Jordan Morris is probably not as good as many American fans hope. For those looking for the Next Big Thing, there’s nothing to suggest Morris is here to save American soccer as we know it.
But after Morris’ two-goal performance against the LA Galaxy on Sunday, good enough for a 4-2 win, it’s pretty clear that doesn’t matter. The 21-year-old has turned into a clutch player the Seattle Sounders can depend on – and as good as he has been, he only gets better as his historic rookie season continues.
Sure, some of the scrutiny Morris has faced has been fair. While his goal tally is good for any player in MLS and great for a rookie, he also has had his share of golden chances that he hasn’t finished. Sometimes it’s because he took too many touches on the ball – some would argue he needs to shoot with his left foot more – and other times it was simply because he couldn’t get a shot on frame.
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Those are the criticisms any striker will face in the hot-and-cold endeavor of scoring goals, but when the Sounders have needed Morris, he has stepped up. When the Sounders went to LA on Sunday, the Galaxy had never lost at home this season and were one of the most potent attacks in all of MLS. The Sounders desperately needed a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, and Morris led the way.
On his first goal, Morris finished with the outside of his right foot, not his left. But his speed to beat the defender and his confidence in taking on the goalkeeper one-on-one shows why Morris was such an exciting rookie prospect initially:
With those two goals, Morris is now at 12 goals on the season, second-best for a rookie in MLS history and the best for an American-born rookie.
From the first goal to the second goal on Sunday, that’s the story of Morris’ evolution this season. He started his pro career viewed as a speedster who got by almost entirely on his athleticism – but throughout 2016, he has slowly added to his repertoire, scoring goals people may not have expected back in February. Nowadays, his off-the-ball movement is smarter, his hold-up play is more robust and his passing shows better awareness. He continues to work on his finishing, too.
As interim Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer put it Sunday: "Big-time players come up in those moments and make a difference in games. Jordan’s performance was a big-time performance tonight."
That may actually be the biggest takeaway of Morris’ rookie season. He is not a finished product – his technical ability and decision-making can and should improve has he continues to develop – but he has shown he has the instincts that aren’t easily taught. He’s a natural striker.
Last week, it was Morris who again carried the Sounders, notching the only goal in a 1-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps, another game that was practically a must-win. It was Morris’ fifth game-winner of the season, which was a record for an MLS rookie. He netted his sixth game-winner on Sunday. He has now scored four goals in his last four games, and without any other forwards being a factor, Morris is alone in the impact he can make.
His splendid brace to defy the odds and beat the Galaxy could be the signature showing of his rookie season, and it was a memorable one that came just at the right time. Then again, if the Sounders can push through to the playoffs, it could merely be a sign of more to come. With five matches left in the regular season, the Sounders are in striking distance of a playoff spot, and it’s largely thanks to Morris, imperfections and all.