Sounders rookie striker Jordan Morris scored a goal Saturday that cannot be overestimated. It was the difference in a 1-0 victory over Vancouver — a game winner worth three points in the standings and the sense, less quantifiable, that an MLS playoff berth still is viable.
For 80 minutes, the Sounders had gone toe-to-toe with their Cascadia Cup rivals. Elimination wasn’t at stake, but with the schedule down to six games and the Sounders beginning Saturday six points behind Portland for the final postseason position, Seattle couldn’t afford to lose.
The Sounders pushed, the Whitecaps pushed back, neither team able to impose its will. And then Morris connected with a perfectly aimed Nicolas Lodeiro cross in the 81st minute, putting the ball into the net off the ol’ noggin.
There were still nine minutes remaining, and what would amount to four minutes of stoppage time, but Morris’ score on the header provided a mood of finality.
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“A good goal by any standard,” said Sounders interim coach Brian Schmetzer, “and it also was a brave goal. Jordan sticking his head in there is not easy, but he did and he was rewarded.”
Morris’ 10th goal of the season revealed how far the much-touted Stanford product has progressed since he made his MLS debut on March 3. That was the afternoon he took a pass in stride for a point-blank shot an elite striker doesn’t miss.
Except Morris didn’t merely miss the shot. He clunked it — the soccer equivalent of rolling a golf ball off the green on a two-foot putt — foreshadowing a Sounders’ season of perpetual tribulation.
Six-and-a-half months after resembling the new kid in school whose first day went worse than awkward, Morris returned to the site of his professional baptism and took charge.
“He’s got a lot of confidence, you can see that,” Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson said of Morris, who turns 22 next month.
“With all young players, it’s very important you stick with them when times are tough.”
Morris’ development from star-struck prospect to star striker has been a team effort that gained traction with the midseason acquisition of Lodeiro, the 5-foot-7 dynamo from Uruguay whose knack for making plays was evident Saturday.
“I’ve definitely gotten more confident as the season has gone on,” said Morris. “And adding Nico — he plays all those great balls — has been an important in building my confidence.”
Given the uncertain status of franchise pillar Clint Dempsey, sidelined Saturday because of an irregular heartbeat, it’s not a stretch to see Morris as the go-to scorer capable of carrying the Sounders down the stretch.
“He still may have butterflies, because these are big games,” said Schmetzer. “Which is normal.”
Schmetzer then offered an observation: He doesn’t need Morris to be normal.
“Strikers are characters like Robbie Keane,” said Schmetzer, referring to the Irish legend who serves as captain of the LA Galaxy. “They can be be nice guys, like Jordan. They can be executioners, like Dempsey. Each has his own little bit of personality.
“Jordan has to keep finding his way. He has so many starting points with his size, speed and athleticism, he’s going to be successful. He just needs to make sure he becomes a student of the game and is aware of everything around him.”
The Sounders resume play a week from Sunday with a road match against the Galaxy. Postseason hopes could hinge on whether Morris can continue to be the striker force whose score prevented his team from a last month spent on life support.
“Six games left,” said Schmetzer. “He can score some more goals, and we expect him to score more. He has the ability.”