Jordan Morris on ball vs. LAFC
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Top Takeaways: Jordan Morris is the second best attacking player in MLS, LAFC's defensive woes and more | Steve Zakuani

On Sunday night, we saw two expansion teams still figuring out their identities, another masterclass from Jordan Morris, and big defensive concerns for LAFC. Let's get into it.

Jordan Morris keeps getting better

Carlos Vela aside, Jordan Morris has been the most dangerous player in MLS over the last 12 months. We could bring up the numbers and the silverware, but you honestly just have to watch him. I’ve watched Jordan since he would join in some of our first team training sessions while he was still with the Sounders academy. He was strong and fast but the decision making and lack of left foot were a concern.

Those concerns were still present in his first two seasons as a pro but ever since the 2019 Gold Cup he has gone to a new level by adding little touches to his already impressive game. The left foot is no longer a weakness, he can beat you on the outside or by coming inside, and most impressively, his composure in front of goal is now exceptional. When Morris is through on goal, I’m more surprised now when he doesn’t find the back of the net such is his efficiency in those situations.

He used to look like a striker that was being forced to play out wide, but now he looks every bit the best left winger in MLS. I’ve had conversations with Jordan over the years about needing to have a winger's mentality — being direct, dribbling with purpose, being goal dangerous — and about the intricacies of the position and he has worked extensively with Sounders assistant coach Preki on the training ground. But in no way, shape or form can I or anyone take credit for his development — this is all Jordan.

This is a player who was gifted with the speed and strength that would have been enough to earn him a good career. But he wanted more. He worked on himself mentally, added a killer instinct, improved his crossing and now has ice in his veins when he’s through on goal. There is not a single right back who doesn’t stay up all night worried about facing him.

As he showed again with his two goals against LAFC on Sunday, The skills he’s added have made him the most dangerous player in MLS not named Carlos Vela. If it hasn’t already, Garth Lagerwey’s phone will be ringing off the hook as European clubs come calling. As a Sounders fan, I can only hope he stays here so we can enjoy him for a long time, but as a football fan, I’d love to see what he can do at the very highest levels.

What's gone wrong with LAFC's defense

Despite being a goal down, I felt LAFC were the better team in the first half. Their passing was crisp, the high press forced the Sounders into errors, their movement was sharp, and they looked dangerous. The one offensive let down was that they didn’t give Stefan Frei more to do, but overall they looked capable of opening the floodgates at any time.

Then the second half came and their Achilles heel reared its ugly head. The league's best defensive team in 2019 are now awful defensively. They commit a lot of numbers forward so catching them on the counter is a strategy many teams now employ, but it still shouldn’t be this easy to score against them. They are conceding at double the rate they conceded last season — 1.08 GAA to 2.14 — and there are a few reasons why.

Their center backs don’t have the pace to play the high line, Kenneth Vermeer gets caught being overly zealous as a sweeper (see Morris’ first goal) and takes up questionable angles (see Ruidiaz goal), and they aren’t getting enough numbers back in transition. At times Seattle were four-on-three when attacking.

Those scenarios were rare last season because LAFC were just as fanatical about their defensive shape and intensity as they were about their play at the other end. Missing Vela and Eduard Atuesta didn’t help them obviously, but for a franchise that has rarely put a foot wrong since joining the league, the Walker Zimmerman shaped hole in their backline is getting bigger every week.

Differing expansion fortunes for Nashville, Miami

Anything attached to David Beckham is going to be big news and garner attention. That's why before they ever kicked a ball, Inter Miami were being linked to every big name you can think of and many expected them to get a world-renowned head coach who would take them down the path of an Atlanta, LAFC, or Seattle Sounders type expansion season. It’s not their fault, but expectations were unrealistically high on and off the pitch. Nashville, on the other hand, built a little more quietly and without the headline news or expectations. It’s still very early in the season but I can see the Nashville identity forming.

They are organized defensively, led by Zimmerman, and with three clean sheets in their last five games they look to be a team that will always give themselves a chance to win 1-0. As currently constructed, they won’t score many goals because I still don’t see a team that creates enough quality chances and against the better teams when you need to score multiple goals to win, they are going to fall short.

Miami are victims of high expectations because even though they are having the kind of season we’ve seen some expansion teams have before, it just feels as if they should be so much better. Rodolfo Pizarro is a good player, and I believe Lee Nguyen should be starting because he adds the ability to drive at the backline and commit players when he plays, but they look like a big experiment every time I watch them — throwing five subs on in the 75th minute adds some weight to that observation.

MLS is a much better league than when I played in it, but if there’s one thing our Sounders team did in our expansion year, it was figure out very early on who we wanted to be — compact defensively and good in transition — and that gave the players direction when we stepped on the field. They’ve been linked with Luis Suarez and Gonzalo Higuain lately, and I worry that unless they get a player of that caliber who can score 20 goals, they are going to find points hard to come by. Neither Nashville nor Miami will have exceptional expansion seasons, but whereas Nashville are matching, or even, exceeding expectations, Miami look nothing like what we thought they could be.

Topics: 

MLS Unites to VOTE

Join Major League Soccer, Black Players for Change, and the MLS Players Association in participating in the November 3 general election. Make a plan to vote.