From poor start to dream MLS Cup run, Jordan Morris never stopped believing

TUKWILA, Wash. — Given how Seattle Sounders rookie forward Jordan Morris’ season has gone lately, it can be easy to forget how it started.

Coming into the season with as much fanfare and media attention as any MLS rookie in recent memory, Morris went scoreless through his first five league matches. The predictable influx of stories questioning whether all the hype was too much too soon — or whether he could ever live up to it — soon followed.

It got to a point where Morris says he stopped reading stories about himself entirely, although he admits that wasn’t an easy task.

“It’s hard,” he told reporters following Seattle’s practice on Monday. “You say you’re going to stop doing it and then you’re just curious and you read some. But I’ve definitely gotten to a point where I try and push all of that to the outside because it’s not going to help my game in any way. It’s just focusing on what I can do on the field to help my team is the most important thing.”

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These days, Morris is making any prior concerns about his readiness to take on the rigors of the professional ranks seem downright comical. He scored 12 goals and added four assists following that five-game scoreless stretch to take home the 2016 AT&T MLS Rookie of the Year award.

And ahead of Seattle’s date with Toronto FC in the 2016 MLS Cup on Saturday at BMO Field (8 pm ET, FOX, UniMás | TSN1/3/4, RDS in Canada), he’s also coming off one of the most memorable individual performances in the 20-year history of the MLS Cup Playoffs.

In the second leg of the Western Conference Championship against the Colorado Rapids, Morris scored the series-clinching goal despite being visibly hampered by a stomach virus and a cleat to the knee that he took from Colorado goalkeeper Zac MacMath that left him with a plus-sized gash.

“It probably took two or three [days after] just to get the sickness all the way out and fix my knee a little bit,” he said Monday. “But I’m totally fine now. I’m just pushing forward, ready to go.”

That Morris has so drastically flipped the narrative following the tough start to the season isn’t surprising if you ask his coaches and teammates. The 22-year-old is nothing if not a cool customer and never displayed any outward sense of being rattled, even through the early-season struggles.

Asked about why Morris seems to be so adept at tuning out all the noise, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer pointed to the strong support system he’s established.

“He’s got great parents and a great family and we try to support him as an organization so he’s got a lot of things that are helping him along the way,” Schmetzer said. “We always talk about his pseudo brother, Cristian [Roldan], that has helped him. It’s a combination of many things. He’s really maturing into a nice young man and a really tremendous soccer player.”

The Seattle-area native now finds himself on the precipice of helping his hometown team capture its first MLS Cup title. It’s precisely the situation in which he envisioned himself when he opted to sign with the Sounders on a Homegrown contract in January, although he admits it may have materialized faster than even he thought it would.

“That’s what you dream about, for sure, is coming in your first year and going straight to MLS Cup,” Morris said. “But obviously things happen and you never know what’s going to go on through the season. I had no idea it was going to happen this quick, but I’m obviously very thankful and happy that it did.”