COMMERCE CITY, Colo.—For Seattle Sounders rookie forward Jordan Morris, the second leg of his team’s Western Conference Championship matchup against the Colorado Rapids forced him to put mind over matter on multiple fronts.
Morris came into Seattle's fifth game of the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs hampered by a stomach virus contracted a few days earlier – an ailment that made the challenge of playing at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park’s mile-high altitude an even more daunting one.
“You just have to play through stuff like that,” Morris told reporters after Seattle's 1-0 victory, which put them through to MLS Cup, 3-1, on aggregate. “I think the altitude was tough for everyone, coming here and playing … You try just not to think about those things.”
Then, while scoring the game-deciding goal in the 56th minute, Morris took a cleat to the leg from Rapids goalkeeper Zac MacMath that left him visibly hobbled for the rest of the match.
But he would see the game through, putting in a gutsy shift that Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said spoke to the uncanny mental fortitude of his 22-year-old wunderkind, who now has two playoff goals to his name producing 12 in the regular season – second only to Cyle Larin's 17 last year among MLS rookies all-time.
“The kid, not only is he strong physically dealing with [the sickness] but he’s also strong mentally,” Schmetzer said. “I think that’s what you saw today. He wasn’t feeling his best and, yeah, there were times in the first half where he didn’t look like the Jordan we all know and love. But he was mentally strong enough. He pushed himself physically to score the goal that we needed to put us through.”
Added midfielder Cristian Roldan: “For [Jordan], his mindset was play 90 minutes, try and make an impact of the game and you saw that he did so. For me, he had this mindset going into the game that he was going to play 90 minutes through injury, adversity and sickness. Credit to him. He changed the game for us.”
Obtaining the franchise’s first Conference Championship carries special weight for Morris, a Seattle-area native who attended the Sounders 2009 MLS debut as a fan and was later a member of Seattle’s youth academy; his father, Michael, currently serves as Chief Medical Director with more than 10 years on staff. With a two-week break before the MLS Cup on December 10, the younger Morris' sights are now set on delivering the ultimate prize to his hometown club.
“When I started playing, it was the dream to go to the [MLS Cup],” he said. “To represent the city, to play in my hometown, it’s unbelievable. It gives me chills.