TORONTO — At times, the expectations for Jordan Morris may seem too demanding for a guy of his age, but when he continues to meet them — no matter how lofty they appear to be — it can be difficult to calm the hype surrounding the 22-year-old.
On Saturday, Morris faces another challenge in the form of the MLS Cup as he tries to help his hometown team, the Seattle Sounders, claim its first title in club history.
The pressure on Morris, the 2016 MLS Rookie of the Year, is understandably heavy, but he has gathered plenty of experience dealing with that already over the past couple of years.
As a sophomore at Stanford, Morris made his U.S. Men’s National Team debut before tallying his first goal in a friendly against rival Mexico. Months later, he helped the Cardinal capture the 2015 national championship with two goals despite his team being a No. 8 seed — the lowest in that year’s College Cup.
“For me, it’s kind of a case of not getting too into the moment or anything like that, not building anything up too much in your head,” Morris said of his approach to big matches. “Obviously, it’s not like any other game, but you kind of try in your head to consider it like any other game so going into it, you’re not too nervous.”
Morris didn’t always make it look this easy though. The start to his professional career wasn’t what he had in mind, but a strong support system guided him through that so he could show just why he was so highly touted.
“At first, dealing with that pressure was tough,” Morris said. “I think I let it get to me, not scoring in those first five games. A lot of people were quick to write me off already, but after scoring my first goal, I think I got that monkey off my back a little and realized that outside noise doesn’t really mean anything, whether it’s good or bad, because it’s not going to help me on the field.”
He went on to collect 12 goals and four assists and showed signs of his growth both mentally and physically en route to impressing one of Saturday’s opponents.
“Jordan has a pretty unique package in terms of what he can do on the field,” Michael Bradley said. “But I think in some ways, the things I like most about Jordan are the things that maybe you guys don’t even realize. Here’s a kid who came into the league under an incredible amount of pressure from the beginning. It was built up to be something, in some ways, bigger than it needed to be for a young player coming out of college, but he took everything in stride.
“In moments when people were ready to come down hard on him for missing chances, or for letting a few things get away from him, he didn’t let it bother him one bit. He’s gotten better and better as the year has gone on, you don’t see that in many young players.”
From their time together with the national team, Bradley has also gotten the chance to know Morris better on a more personal level. Morris recalls occasions when Bradley pulled him aside in training to give him tips and made him more comfortable and confident, while Bradley learned about the type of person Morris is through how he handled challenges and adversity.
“He’s a young kid who competes, who wants to learn, who isn’t a big talker,” Bradley said. “He comes around and is ready to listen, to soak things up. He’s not afraid to talk when you have a conversation with him. But again, he’s somebody who comes into a group and is ready to watch, learn and listen. I think in a lot of ways, he’s shown everybody what a unique guy he is.”
One can argue that Morris has gotten off to as great of a start to a career as possible for a young star, but one more win for him on Saturday could inch that to near perfection.
“I think no matter what, going into your season, your goal is to make the final,” Morris said. “But it’s very difficult to do, so the fact that we’re here and I’m playing for my hometown club, I think in that mindset it’s definitely surreal that I’m able to represent this city and play on this great club and be in this situation we’re in now.”