From the moment he burst onto the scene as a budding college star, Jordan Morris has faced an overwhelming set of expectations.
He wasn't the first American prospect to be thrust into the hype machine and he certainly won't be the last but, even so, there has always been this belief that anything less than superstar status would never be good enough for the former Stanford star.
Morris may never reach that status. He may never become the player many expected him to be when he became the first college star to feature for the U.S. national team in a generation. He may never set Europe alight and he may never become any sort of transcendent star.
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But, if Saturday's performance showed us anything, it's that this version of Jordan Morris has become a hell of a player.
The Seattle Sounders forward scored a stunning hat-trick on Saturday, leading the way in a 4-3 win over FC Dallas in a match that will go down as an instant classic. It was a game that had everything: big goals, controversy, stunning saves. But, at the center of it all, was Morris.
He scored his first goal in the 22nd minute, following up a Raul Ruidiaz finish just four minutes prior. After seeing FC Dallas fight back to tie the game at two, Morris' second put the Sounders ahead in the 74th minute. His third? That came in extra time, a scrappy effort that CenturyLink Field into a frenzy and effectively won the game for the Sounders.
It was a statement performance from the forward, who continues to blossom in his first season back from an injury that threatened to derail his career.
“It’s just good to be back, playing in playoff games like this,” Morris said. “Last couple of years I’ve been hurt, 2017 the majority of the playoffs, 2018 out for the whole playoffs. So, to be back in these games is just special.”
Throughout his first two seasons, Morris was frequently a lightning rod for criticism. He should have tested himself at Werder Bremen. He only has one foot. He's not consistent. He's not good. He'll never be the player many want him to be.
All of that changed in the first leg of the 2018 Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals when Morris tore his ACL. He missed all of 2018 because of it, seemingly fading into the background and out of the public eye. During an era of transition for the U.S. men's national team, Morris was on the sidelines. When the Sounders fell to the rival Portland Timbers in the playoffs in 2018, Morris could only watch on.
His 2019 return started with a bang. He scored two goals in his first match back, an opening day win over FC Cincinnati, before scoring again two weeks later. Then came the drought, as Morris scored one goal from March 16 to July 27 with a hamstring injury and the Gold Cup mixed in between.
He came to life in the second half with six goals and five assists over his final nine starts. It was a sign of progress and a sign of growth for a player that had seemingly finally reached his peak following his fight back from injury.
“He's grown. Jordan is such a nice kid, he has so much talent,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said after the game. “It just shows that his growth, his maturity in these big contests, in these big games, maybe [playing with the USMNT] helps him, but he’s been always a good student.
“[Assistant coach] Preki has been working with him. Preki makes Jordan find the [video] clips he wants to talk about, then they discuss it, so we’re making him think about the game and think about how he can be better. I think some of those things are working.”
They certainly seem to be working. Morris is finally playing like the confident, dynamic forward that many expected him to grow into. It's easy to forget that he's still just 24, having been in the public eye for the better part of five years. Since the moment he caught the eye of former USMNT boss Jurgen Klinsmann, he's been a player that has both inspired hope and caused plenty of frustration.
But despite the weight of those expectations, despite the injury and despite the criticism that has come with forging his own path, Jordan Morris seems to be doing just fine.