MLS Soccer

Jordan Morris, Sounders realize dream years in the making by reaching MLS Cup

Matt Pentz

The Seattle Times

Seattle Sounders forward Nelson Haedo Valdez, top, hugs midfielder Cristian Roldan after defeating the Colorado Rapids in the second leg of the MLS Western Conference soccer finals game Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016, in Commerce City, Colo.
Seattle Sounders forward Nelson Haedo Valdez, top, hugs midfielder Cristian Roldan after defeating the Colorado Rapids in the second leg of the MLS Western Conference soccer finals game Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016, in Commerce City, Colo. AP

In Jordan Morris’ daydreams, scoring the goal that sent the Sounders to the MLS Cup was considerably less painful.

The MLS Rookie of the Year has pictured this moment in his mind’s eye from the time he was 14, when he sat in the CenturyLink Field stands for Seattle’s first MLS game.

Eight seasons have since come and gone, as have seven consecutive playoff berths that all fell short of the league championship game. Morris grew from a hotshot schoolboy prospect out of Mercer Island into the most coveted Homegrown Player signing in MLS history.

On Sunday afternoon, on a blustery November day at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, that adolescent vision finally came to fruition.

Morris scored the lone goal of Leg 2 of the Western Conference finals series between the Sounders and Rapids, Seattle winning 1-0 on the day and 3-1 on aggregate.

The Sounders will play for a league championship for the first time in their modern era on Dec. 10. If Montreal tops Toronto in the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday, CenturyLink Field will even host it.

“When I started playing, it was always my dream to go to the final – to represent this club, to represent this city, to play for my hometown – it’s unbelievable,” Morris said, having borrowed Zach Scott’s sandals to gingerly limp over the sticky Champagne coating on the locker-room floor. “It gives me chills.”

Those chills were not the only ones Morris has experienced over the last 48 hours.

He’d been dealing with a stomach bug since Friday night – food poisoning or a virus, he wasn’t too sure. He says he felt less nauseous when he woke up on match day, but he certainly looked like he was still feeling its effects.

Morris put his hands on his hips during stoppages in play, sucking wind into his chest. He lacked his usual energy off the ball, trudging up and down the sideline when he’d normally be probing for runs behind the opposing defense.

“There were times in the first half where he didn’t look like the Jordan that we all know and love,” Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said.

That went for the majority of the Sounders players.

Comfortable though the final margin may seem, if you’d have been given odds at halftime, the Rapids looked the likelier team to advance. Colorado would have gone through with a 1-0 win thanks to the goal it scored Tuesday at CenturyLink and the away-goals tiebreaker.

Colorado pressed the ball high and pinned the visitors inside their own half for most of the opening 45 minutes. The Sounders looked flustered. Seattle defender Roman Torres looked especially uncomfortable with the ball pressure, and his 24th-minute turnover nearly gifted the Rapids the opening goal.

“They took it to us in the first half,” Schmetzer said, to the tune of 11 shots to 1. “They were just better.”

This was less a soccer game than a battle of wills. Eyes barely dared leave the field, fearing they’d miss the pivotal moment that would decide an MLS Cup berth. Colorado was more ambitious in seeking out the goal that would send it through. Seattle mostly just hung on for dear life.

The moment finally came in the 56th minute. Nelson Valdez, who played through a sore groin for 88 minutes, pounced on a loose ball and hit Morris in stride. The rookie clicked into gear and finished inside the far post.

Even the relief of Morris’ breakthrough was short-lived. After netting what might be the biggest goal in the Sounders’ history, Morris stayed down, grabbing his right leg after taking a cleat to the thigh from Colorado keeper Zac MacMath.

The forward hobbled off, limping badly. His father, Michael, the team doctor, dug his fingers into his son’s leg, checking for any potential ligament damage.

Schmetzer asked Jordan if he needed to be replaced, and the rookie looked his coach in the eye before answering – one Sounders generation to another.

I’m still going to play.

Morris would make it all the way to the final whistle.

“The kid is not only strong physically, but dealing with the (type-1 Diabetes) that he has, he’s also strong mentally,” Schmetzer said. “I think that’s what you saw today. He wasn’t feeling his best. ... But in the one moment that really counted, he was mentally strong enough, he pushed himself physically to score the goal that we needed to put us through.”

Scoring the goal that sent his hometown club to MLS Cup was more painful than it was in Morris’ dreams. At least nobody needed to pinch either he or the Sounders fans going bonkers in the far corner to let them know that it was real.

MLS playoff appearances

How the Seattle Sounders have fared in the MLS playoffs:

Year

Finish

2016

Playing for championship

2015

Lost in conference semifinals

2014

Lost in conference finals

2013

Lost in conference semifinals

2012

Lost in conference finals

2011

Lost in conference semifinals

2010

Lost in conference semifinals

2009

Lost in conference semifinals

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