TUKWILA, Wash. – As the Seattle Sounders took the field for the opening training session of their 2019 preseason at Starfire Sports Complex on Tuesday, no player was more visibly happy to be there than Jordan Morris.
The 24-year-old forward is coming off the toughest year of his career, a 2018 campaign that ended before it started when he tore his ACL in Concacaf Champions League play in February. Factor in a hamstring injury that kept him sidelined for much of the latter part of the 2017 season, and Morris has been available for just seven MLS games over the past 18 months.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Morris had a bit of an extra bounce in his step as the Sounders kicked off their 2019 campaign, grinning and joking with teammates throughout Tuesday’s training session and telling reporters afterward that the mental grind of the rehab process has left him counting the days until Seattle’s regular-season opener.
“The physical part of rehabbing the knee was obviously tough,” Morris said. “But the mental part of being out every single day and wanting to be out there playing, having to miss the road trips and watching games from home or at the stadium, it was really tough. There were some tough times that I went through.
“I’m glad it’s over for sure. I’m just excited to be back.”
With Morris healthy and back in the picture, the question now becomes exactly where he fits on the field.
Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer plays almost exclusively a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Peruvian Designated PlayerRaul Ruidiaz the unquestioned starter as the lone striker in that setup. That means Morris, a striker by trade, will likely be deployed on the wing, where he has played in the past to mixed results.
Schmetzer said on Tuesday that exactly how Ruidiaz and Morris fit together is something to be ironed out during preseason. But regardless of where he ends up playing, Morris still possesses game-changing physical gifts when healthy, specifically breakneck speed that GM Garth Lagerwey pointed to as one of the biggest qualities his team lacked last season.
“I think the one criticism you could make of our team – the most common criticism last year – was that we weren’t fast enough,” Lagerwey said on Tuesday. “So, to add an elite player, with elite speed, is something that arguably addresses our greatest weakness.”
With such a lengthy layoff, Morris said he feels as though 2019 is his chance to prove himself and, hopefully, recapture the form that made him the 2016 MLS Rookie of the Year. The Sounders have bet on that happening, reportedly giving Morris a lengthy and lucrative contract extension this offseason, along with 23-year-old teammate Cristian Roldan.
“It’s been so long since I’ve been on the field, I was driving by the stadium this morning on my way in just picturing playing the first game there and I couldn’t be more excited,” Morris said. “I definitely want to step out there and prove myself.
“I love this team, love this city,” he added. “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.”