TORONTO – From a pair of US national team superstars to one for the future.
With Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders the only two teams still standing in the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs and their MLS Cup Final date still a week away, there was some time for some niceties before getting back to business.
The object of that affection: Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris.
“I'm a big fan of Jordan's,” said Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley on Monday, when the chance of meeting in the championship decider required beating Montreal on Wednesday, which TFC subsequently did, 5-2, advancing 7-5 on aggregate. “His package: speed, nose for the goal; those are pretty unique things. But what makes him more unique is when you start adding in the type of kid that he is, the mentality that he has.”
SeatGeek has great deals for future MLS matchesGET TICKETS Official Ticketing Partner of Major League Soccer
“I've been around a lot of young, highly-talented players, and I would put [his] approach to the game, to his self-improvement, up there with anybody. I'm very happy for him on a personal level,” continued Bradley. “In many ways, on this last stretch, people have been quick, and rightfully so, to talk about the impact that [Sounders midfielder] Nicolas Lodeiro has had – he's been very good – but for me, the guy who has put [the Sounders] on his back is Jordan. [The second leg of the Western Conference Championship] was another example: When they needed a big play, he was the one who was able to come up with it."
Morris, in his first season in MLS, had indeed been a driving force for the Sounders, who turned their season around, from worst to Western Champions, after Brian Schmetzer replaced Sigi Schmid and the signing of Lodeiro in the closing days of July.
In 34 regular season appearances, Morris tallied 12 goals and four assists, only to ramp up his production in the playoffs, scoring twice and adding an assist through five matches. Crucial strikes they have been too, scoring the equalizer in the first leg against the Colorado Rapids after a Kevin Doyle goal had see the visitors take an early lead, and then, in his "flu game," overcoming adversity to sink the game-winner before the hour-mark, sealing the Sounders' first-ever MLS Cup berth.
Asked his thoughts on Friday about Morris, Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore relayed a story: “I'll never forget when I first played against him. [The USMNT] were preparing for the  World Cup and we played against Stanford in California, in a closed-door game. He was great. We beat them 6- or 7- or 8-1, but he scored the goal.”
“I remember looking over at [then-US national team assistant coach] Andi Herzog, saying, 'Is it too late to bring this guy along with us to Brazil?' He was terrific,” continued Altidore. “To see him grow, become the player he is today, everybody is pleased for him. We're all cheering for him, happy with his progression.”
“Hopefully on Saturday he's not as good,” concluded Altidore with a smile.
Once the starlet himself, Altidore offers a unique perspective on the pressures faced by the 22-year old Morris, still acclimating to the glare of being a professional. Altidore was just 16 when he was drafted by the New York Red Bulls in 2006, making his debut that same season. A year later, the now-27 year old Altidore would make his full international debut for the United States.
“It's not easy,” recalled Altidore. “At that age, you're not equipped yet to deal with all the things that come. [Jordan] has a lot of good people around him, which is good. Maybe some players don't have that when they first come into the league.”
“It's hard,” he continued. “You say you won't read stuff about yourself, but you will. At that age, you're curious to see what people think about you. Hopefully, he's at the point now where he's gone through all that and he's just focused on being the best player he can be because he has quite a bright future.”