You know what a playoff flu game means, right? LEGEND STATUS (all caps definitely required).
IS THIS JORDAN MORRIS'S FLU GAME? DO ALL JORDANS GET ONE?— Tutul Rahman (@tutulismyname) November 27, 2016
The last time I had the flu, I called out of work, stayed in bed all day, repeatedly moaned aloud to nobody in particular and could barely muster the strength to unwrap a package of ramen noodles, let alone stick them in the microwave. I suspect I’m not alone in my pathetic approach to illness.
I am not Jordan Morris.
On Sunday, after a 48-hour stomach bug and flu-like symptoms had sapped the strength and energy that’s made him a nightmare for MLS defenders in his first professional season, Morris channeled his inner Airness, scoring the lone goal in a 1-0 victory of Leg 2 of the Western Conference Championship, sealing the Seattle Sounders' first-ever trip to MLS Cup.
That’s so incredible that it bears repeating.
Jordan Morris suffered through food poisoning or a virus – he’s not sure which – for two full days before the biggest game of his career, then went out and played a game that left a man nicknamed the Honey Badger speechless, scoring the lone goal as his hometown team finally booked a place in MLS Cup, a destination the Sounders have obsessed over (and whiffed on repeatedly) since they joined the league in 2009, when Morris was 14 years old.
Good lord. That’s a sportswriter's dream – one hell of a story and an invaluable piece of MLS lore in a league still hungry for history.
All legends need a marquee moment, a highlight that’s iconic and instantly recognizable, and just 11 months into his pro career, Morris has his first. It was a special play – the run, the touch, the finish, the willingness to sacrifice his body for the collective good – from a special player. And make no mistake, Morris is just that.
Yes, the Jordan comparison is hyperbolic, but let’s not let our collective cynicism sully what truly is an incredible story. Sunday was not a one-off. It was not an isolated event. It was the pinnacle – until Dec. 10 at least – of a magical season in which we’ve watched Morris go from much-hyped prospect to the real deal, a proven pro with the world at his feet.
In case you’ve been living under a rock amid the bumper-to-bumper coverage right here at Major League Soccer Soccer dot com (and elsewhere) in 2016, here’s a summary of JMoSmooth’s last 11 months, in which he’s been pushed far outside his – I apologize for nothing – comfort zone:
- January – Morris spurns Bundesliga interest to sign his first professional contract with the Sounders, where the Seattle native was an academy standout and his father is the team doctor.
- February – Thrust into a starting role after Obafemi Martins unexpectedly bolts for China.
- March and April – Lambasted for a lack of production (and a left foot) as the Sounders come out of the gates slowly. Opens professional account against Philadelphia, and scores in four straight to help Seattle right the ship.
- May – Left off the US national team’s Copa America Centenario roster by Jurgen Klinsmann.
- July – Sigi Schmid, the only head coach the Sounders have known in MLS, parts ways with the club. Assistant Brian Schmetzer steps in as interim head coach with Seattle’s playoff hopes on life support.
- August – Clint Dempsey is diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and ruled out for the remainder of the 2016 season, shifting the goalscoring burden squarely onto Morris’ shoulders.
- September and October – Along with new arrival Nicolas Lodeiro, Morris helps lead once dead-in-the-water Seattle to an improbable playoff berth, which they take advantage of by defeating Sporting KC in a dramatic Knockout Round game.
- November – Following a victorious playoff series against FC Dallas, Morris is named MLS Rookie of the Year. Fresh off that individual plaudit, Morris scores the equalizer against the Rapids in a 2-1 victory in the first leg of the Conference Championship before adding yet another in the second leg while sick as a dog to send Seattle to MLS Cup.
In case it wasn’t already obvious, we’ve been fortunate enough to witness the birth of a star in 2016. And that’s with a massive, glaring hole in Morris' 2016 timeline.
December. MLS Cup. The opportunity of a lifetime. The opportunity to bring the ultimate MLS prize to Puget Sound, to be a homegrown champion the city remembers forever, to never pay for a beer or a meal in Seattle again.
That moment will come, it's outcome yet to be decided. Until then, let’s not forget to appreciate the brilliance of this moment.
Fifteen years from now, when Morris’ career is winding down, we’ll be telling our children about the Flu Game, when a young striker burdened by expectations shook off 48 hours of misery to deliver in the biggest moment of his career.
That’s history, and like Morris himself, it’s worth celebrating.