A staple of many a preseason camp is goal-setting. It taps into the competitive nature of athletes and coaches, to aspire and work toward targets, both for the individuals and the collective, the team.
They must be specific and measurable; within reason, but also just out of reach. To reach these goals will require more than before. Goal-setting asks us to give it everything we’ve got, and then some.
Entering a ninth season in MLS, Sounders FC is well into its adolescence. Whereas the formative years were filled with modest accomplishments – winning season series, making the playoffs – those benchmarks are now merely base camps for assault on the summit.
When he takes his place on the terra firma of BMO Field on Saturday night, the mission of Jordan Morris is to do whatever it takes for the Sounders to bring home the Anschutz Trophy.
Win the ball. Hold the ball. Connect. Cover and mark bigs on Reds set plays. Set-up or score a goal, all the better. But just win.
It would be Seattle’s first such championship in the top flight of North American soccer, and it would obviously hold extra special meaning to a Mercer Islander who grew up watching the boys in Rave. And given Puget Sound’s proclivity for producing top-class players, it would be a fantasy come true for fans, to see a homegrown lad lift MLS Cup.
Since mid-summer there’s been little question whether Jordan Morris would be the top rookie in the land. All that’s remained to be seen is just how far our Jordy boy goes.
With a tight hamstring it remains to be seen how much Morris can contribute Morris in coming weeks. Yet his prospects are unlimited in the big picture, at least where Seattle homegrown attacking players are concerned, and he’s got no more fervent fans than the forwards in whose footsteps he follows.
In the pantheon of Seattle soccer over the past 50-odd years, there have been some truly remarkable, even iconic forwards. Each experienced a great deal of joy while scoring an abundance of goals, albeit while using often vastly different sets of tools. And while still in development, Morris may prove to be a distinctive cocktail all his own.
Chance Fry has keenly followed Morris’s development for any number of reasons. First, Fry’s a Sounders fan. He also coached an 8-year-old Morris at Eastside FC. Beyond that, Fry has walked in his boots, playing a total of nine seasons for past iterations of the Sounders and FC Seattle.
“Jordan is having an amazing first year,” says Fry, a Bellevue native who debuted for the NASL Sounders in 1983 at age 18. “I’d thought if he could get to double digits (in goals) that would be fantastic.”
In fact, the pride of Mercer Island set a new standard for American rookies in MLS, scoring 12 times. Pat Noonan had totaled 10 in 2003.
For those who have witnessed the professional era of soccer in this area, Morris is very much his own man, albeit an amalgam of many characters to represent Seattle in the past.
“Nobody’s completely original,” notes Fry. In terms of physical attributes–size, strength and build–“he might be like (Fredy) Montero. For flat-out speed, he’s got Montero beat but not quite Obafemi (Martins).” But then, Fry adds, “Oba’s a freak.”
A Brief History of Homegrowns
Pro-caliber scorers have been coming out of Puget Sound since before the first Sounders. Hungarian-born and Ballard-raised Les Mueller made a few bucks at the semi-pro level before a short stint with the Denver Broncos. But most recognize Mark Peterson as planting the flag for homegrown forwards.
At 19, Peterson burst on the scene with 14 goals in 1980, helping Seattle win an NASL record 25 games. Half of those goals came after rookie of the year balloting was completed; he finished third. His youth club teammate and fellow Tacoman Jeff Durgan won the honor.
Fry was the next striker in the local pipeline. Both he and Peterson earned U.S. caps. After the NASL folded, Fry led the A-League in scoring while Peterson plied his trade indoors before retiring after just six years. Fry stretched his career 14 years, including nine in Seattle.
The next batch of homegrowns, like Morris, went the college route initially. Peter Hattrup and Brent Goulet starred at small schools (Seattle Pacific and Warner Pacific, respectively) before going pro. Starring for the Olympic team, Goulet would earn 1988 U.S. Soccer Player of the Year. Hattrup was 1995 A-League MVP.
The mid-Nineties featured the likes of Jason Dunn, Darren Sawatzky, Jason Farrell, and Erik Storkson. Prior to Morris, the most recent goal-dangerous locals were A-League/USL rookies of the year, Greg Howes and Cam Weaver, and, in the MLS era, Lamar Neagle.
The most prolific of the aforementioned frontrunners were Peterson and Fry, each accumulating 61 goals in all competitions. Peterson was the consummate poacher, faithfully making runs and forever getting on the end of things. Fry, a prototypical center-forward, often operating with his back to goal, is termed by Hattrup, “as a good of finisher as I’ve ever seen.”
From this canvas emerges Morris, whose silhouette would be instantly recognizable for his broad, hulking shoulders and pigeon-toed gait. He cuts a distinctive figure.
A dozen goals is just a baseline. “He’s got the physical gifts, but he’s got to grow into the finishing department,” says Hattrup. “He’s got the strength and the speed. His touch is good, and for as many goals as he’s got, his finishing is only going to get better,” adding, “It’s already gotten better over the course of the season.”
As a rookie, Morris converted 17 percent of his shots into goals. It pales in comparison to Martins, but it’s comparable to Eddie Johnson’s days at the CLink.
Early on, Fry detected unease in Morris, especially in light of the adulation and the Space Needle poses, a la Messi. “Jordan, he’s a humble guy and doesn’t like attention,” he shares. “I think he got a little overwhelmed.”
Once Morris settled and Nico Lodeiro arrived, the growth spurt ensued. Lodeiro’s made everyone better, and none more than the rookie, whose sixth sense is probing those spaces behind the defense, an area Lodeiro is always looking to exploit with a penetrating pass.
By mid-September, Morris’s was not only flowing, his production kicked into overdrive. It began with his late header to break a scoreless stalemate versus Vancouver.
“It was an extremely important goal and for me, personally in regards to Jordan, it was a brave goal,” judges Fry. “Sticking his head in there the way he did and just going for it. That whole game he had been making good runs and he just kept going and going.”
Making the Sublime Look Simple
Eight days later at LA, Morris was smack in the middle of the match that turned the MLS Western Conference playoff race on its head. He struck twice in 10 minutes, putting the Sounders ahead, 3-1.
First he won a ball just inside the attacking half, then shrugged off Daniel Steres before igniting the afterburners for the breakaway. Later, out of a frantic goalmouth scramble, Morris calmly pulls the ball across Steres and slots home from short range.
“The first goal was a great goal, but the second goal was downplayed by Alexi (Lalas, FOX analyst), where he said it was a simple finish. No, it wasn’t,” contends Fry. “It was completely great composure. He made it look simple, but it was far from simple.”
Making the sublime look simple is a gift. As Morris matures, as his belief in his own abilities grows, such exploits will be repeated on a regular basis.
“It’s part of confidence,” states Hattrup. Compared to college, the pro game requires much more precision. “The windows are smaller, (but) he’s strong enough and fast enough that he’ll create chances for himself.”
Fry agrees. He’s improving with his back to goal, and as his on-field understanding with Lodeiro (not to mention other teammates) deepens, there’s every reason to believe Morris will truly distinguish himself as a legend among Sounders homegrowns.
“He’s growing and doing better,” says Fry, “and we’re all super proud of how he’s doing.”