Jordan Morris challenged by Judson

SEATTLE – Jordan Morris isn’t necessarily used to the role he’s about to play.

Morris came up through the Seattle Sounders academy and emerged as one of U.S. Soccer’s more highly touted prospects at Stanford University thanks to his prowess as a striker. But when the Sounders open up their 2019 MLS campaign at CenturyLink Field against FC Cincinnati on Saturday (10 pm ET | FS1 in US, MLS LIVE on DAZN), he’ll be lining up out wide, where he’s been deployed in every game he has played throughout Seattle’s preseason.

It’s not an entirely new experiment. Morris has played on the wing periodically throughout his MLS career and shown an aptitude for the position, which allows him to make greater use of the blazing speed that remains his biggest asset.

But with star Designated PlayerRaul Ruidiaz possessing an unquestioned hold on the starting striker role atop head coach Brian Schmetzer’s 4-2-3-1 formation, Morris’ move to the wing figures to be full time for 2019. It’s a work in progress, but ahead of Saturday’s season-opener, Morris said he feels as though he’s becoming increasingly adapted to the role.

“I like playing on both sides,” Morris said. “My focus this year if I’m playing out wide is I still want to be goal-dangerous and try to make runs in towards goal and scoring goals on my own. But I think shifting out wide, obviously, a big component of my game is going to be putting the ball in the box. So there are things to work on, but I think it’s been a positive start.”

Examples of that shift in mentality can be seen in at least two instances from Seattle’s preseason fixtures.

The first came in the second half of the Sounders’ friendly with Uruguayan side Club Nacional on Feb. 20, when Morris collected the ball on the right flank and lashed a powerful, pinpoint cross into the penalty box that found a wide-open Alex Roldan, who clanged the ensuing header off the post.

Another came in the Sounders’ preseason game against the San Jose Earthquakes three days later, when Morris embarked on a bounding run down the same right flank that saw him leave Quakes defender Judson in the dust before finding an on-rushing Victor Rodriguez with another pinpoint cross. This time, the Spaniard cashed home the finish for the game’s opening goal.

“I want to work on that but, again, I don’t want to lose what I feel like I’m best at which is getting in behind and being goal-dangerous and stretching opponents,” Morris said. “So, for me, obviously I think I’m going to be putting those balls in the box more but also still getting in the box trying to score goals and continuing to work on that as well.”

For the Sounders, Morris growing into the role is something of an x-factor as it pertains to the upside of the club’s attack. Should he thrive as a facilitator and match or improve on the goal-scoring ability that he displayed in his MLS Rookie of the Year-winning season of 2016, a 10-goal/10-assist season doesn’t seem like an unreasonable proposition.

Coming off a 2018 season that saw him miss Seattle’s entire MLS campaign with a torn ACL, Morris said he’s simply itching to get back on the field, and that he’s come through preseason physically right and raring to go.

“I feel good,” he said. “Coming back from injury you have questions in your head sometimes, but on the field and in practice I don’t think about it at all. I just go out and play and enjoy it because last year was pretty tough and I just wanted to be out on the field. So, I have kind of a new attitude about it going into this year, which has been good.”