Jordan Morris scooted in front of a napping Jordan Smith. Nicolas Lodeiro was on the ball, and Morris has quickly learned that when the Uruguayan Designated Player has time and space in the final third, the best thing to do is to get inside your defender and figure out how to be a target in the 6-yard box.
So that's what he did. Smith realized it too late, and Vancouver's pressure was slow getting out to Lodeiro after a nice little reversal from Erik Friberg. So Lodeiro scoped the field for a split-second, then drove his left foot through the ball. David Edgar got pulled a step too far toward the near post, David Ousted gambled off his line, and Morris won the race to what turned into a delightful little cross.
Head met ball, ball met net, and victory once again met the Seattle Sounders. They won 1-0 over the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, jumping at least temporarily into seventh place in the Western Conference, and at least temporarily just three points behind the Portland Timbers. A loss or a draw to the 'Caps would probably have ended any reasonable expectation of a playoff trip for the Rave Green, but a win keeps hope alive for at least another week or two.
This was not the kind of goal we thought Morris was going to be scoring when he signed with his hometown club in January:
He was billed as and has been primarily a speedster, the type of channel-running No. 9 who can open the field with his movement on the ball, but mostly off of it. He was billed as a franchise-changer, if not necessarily a franchise-saver, and he was billed as the next big thing.
Those billings have stuck with him. He's, at times, struggled to live up to the expectations, and his failings have been justifiably magnified. Tweets like this are not uncommon:
Imagine what he could do if he had two feet https://t.co/Bi0wYcV16h— Ryan Connor (@rcon14) September 17, 2016
It's part of being a pro. And the kid, to his credit, mostly seems to know it, and mostly seems determined to improve. Ask any Sounders veteran if they're confident Morris will come back in 2017 as an improved player and they'll tell you it's not even a question, and point to his in-season improvement as proof. He works smarter off the ball now, and he's more rugged in his hold-up play. He's a better passer on the break because his head comes up earlier. He's just as committed but more purposeful in his defensive effort.
He's going to get better because he's already getting better. The job of any young player isn't just to do the job, but to improve while doing so.
Lost in the wash of honest analysis and hot takes and unrealistic expectations and deepest fears, though, has been an unusually productive and – as of today – officially record-breaking season for Morris. He's doing the job.
Here's a list:
- Today's goal was his 10th, making him just the 5th rookie in league history to hit double digits
- He's the first American since Pat Noonan (10 in 2003) to hit double-digits, which is the record for an American rookie
- Today's goal was his fifth game-winner, which A) sets a rookie record, and B) ties him for the league lead
I don't know if that's where your hopes were for Morris, who came into the league with more fanfare than any rookie I can remember. Maybe he's lived up to them for some of you, and certainly for others he hasn't.
That doesn't change the above: Morris set a record today, and he did so in a playoff race in front of 50,000 fans against a rival in a must-win game. Failure to do so meant death for the Sounders.
He's endured the pressure and come out on the other side as a better player. Seattle's season is still breathing for one more week because of it.