This is a feature in Issue 20 of Sounders Monthly, Sounders FC’s original magazine. They are available for free at The NINETY, Soccer Celebration, GuestLink Services locations and Membership Central as well as the Northwest, Northeast, Southwest and South gates.
In early 2018, Jordan Morris called his mother, Leslie, while at the United States national team’s annual January Camp in Carson, Calif.
It’s a common occurrence while on the road for Morris, a family-first guy who lived with his parents on Mercer Island during his first three professional seasons before moving into Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood a few months ago.
According to Jordan’s older brother, Chris, the conversation went like this:
Jordan: “Oh my gosh, I forgot to tell you…”
Leslie: “What? Did you score a few goals in a scrimmage?”
Jordan: “No, I won my first ‘Fortnite’ game!”
Whether it’s on the field or in a video game with teammates, Morris is driven by his desire to win, but even more so, his hatred to lose.
“Just as a kid I was innately competitive in whatever I did,” Morris said.
Those close to Morris don’t know where it comes from. The Morris family has always seen a competitive bite to Jordan, the second-youngest of four children.
Morris poses at scenic Gas Works Park in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood | All photos by Mike Fiechtner
Perhaps it comes from Grandpa George, Leslie’s father. He was a table tennis champion in his native Iran, and one of his top competitors was his brother.
Morris is convinced it’s not the diabetes. Although being diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes has given him mental toughness and perseverance, his competitive side was already there before the diagnosis at age nine.
“Diabetes is a competition with myself to stay on top of it, to stay healthy,” Morris said. “I have always been just that way, no matter what we were doing.”
Growing up in the Morris household provided an opportunity at every turn for Jordan to try beat Chris, who is four years older. It didn’t matter the game: mini-basketball hoops, backyard soccer, video games or indoor soccer in the upstairs bonus room.
“Someone would end up bleeding,” said Chris.
In a friendly game of pickleball a couple years ago, Jordan pinpointed a weak backhand from Chris’ now-wife, Josie. Jordan’s team won 15-2, with every shot aimed at Josie’s weakness. Indoor soccer in the bonus room has been replaced by Settlers of Catan or Spikeball on the beach with his family, but Morris’ desire to win has never wavered.
“I hate to lose,” Jordan said emphatically. “When I lose, I am just so upset with myself. Obviously when you win it’s an amazing feeling, but I get that anger when I lose.”
It was sometimes too much. The brothers recall a time when Leslie had to take away the video game “FIFA 06” from the boys because Jordan got too upset when he lost. But for as much emotion that Jordan showed, his talents always matched it.
Before Chris played soccer at Seattle Pacific University, he made the varsity team at Mercer Island High School as a freshman. He was quick, though, to place the positive attention elsewhere.
“No, no, you don’t understand,” Chris told his coaches, “my brother is the really good one.”
Morris’ teams at Eastside FC in the greater Seattle area were powerhouses from ages 11 through 17, winning six state titles in seven years. When he transitioned to Sounders Academy in 2012-13, his U-18 team reached the playoffs behind 28 goals in 32 matches from Morris, who was named the USSDA national U-18 Player of the Year.
By the time Morris entered his junior year of high school, Stanford noticed. Despite boasting a strong program, the Cardinal had never won a national title before Morris enrolled at the Palo Alto, Calif., campus in Fall 2013.
Head Coach Jeremy Gunn was fascinated with Morris’ ability to drive and beat players, and there was a good-natured, competitive aura about him.
“We love to recruit players who are perfect gentlemen, who open the door for people off the field, but on the field, they barge right through the door,” Gunn said. “I think that’s the perfect description of a person like Jordan.”
Gunn took over the Cardinal men’s soccer program in 2012 and aimed to inject a competitive streak into his team. Everything was a competition, from table tennis during preseason to soccer tennis before training.
“Jordan certainly loved that,” Gunn said. “You can push people to compete, but it’s so much more wonderful when they have that intrinsic drive, and that’s something that, obviously, Jordan had.”
Morris kept a tally with a college teammate on head-to-head matchups in billiards. They played each other hundreds of times.
“He beat me in the overall score, but I beat him in ping-pong and made him snap his paddle in half,” Morris said.
Morris debuted with the senior United States national team on Nov. 14, 2014, while a sophomore at Stanford. He became the first college player to join a U.S. roster since Chris Albright in 1999 and the first to earn a cap since Ante Razov in 1995.
Earlier that year, Morris impressed then-Manager Jurgen Klinsmann in a scrimmage against Stanford prior to the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Morris left a mark on several key figures on the team as well, including Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore.
“I remember looking over at [then-U.S. national team assistant coach] Andi Herzog, saying, ‘Is it too late to bring this guy along with us to Brazil?’” Altidore recalled ahead of Toronto FC’s meeting with the Sounders in MLS Cup 2016. “He was terrific.”
In the 2015 NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Championship against Clemson, Morris scored twice and drew a penalty in a 4-0 win. The Cardinal won their first national championship, the first of three consecutive. Morris had a direct hand in establishing a foundation and culture of excellence that resonated even after he departed.
On Jan. 21, 2016, Morris signed with the Sounders on the most lucrative Homegrown contract in MLS history. By the end of the season, he was named the league’s Rookie of the Year and helped the club win its first MLS Cup.
Morris scored 12 goals and added four assists while becoming the first Sounders outfield player to appear in all 34 regular-season matches. He also scored the game-winning goal in his own version of a “flu game” in the second leg of the Western Conference Championship at the Colorado Rapids.
To those who know him the best, they still see the same flush-faced boy sprinting past every kid on the playground. He’s soft-spoken and polite, he’s humble and down-to-earth kind.
“Humility has been mentioned numerous times about Jordan,” said Gunn, “but sometimes when people keep that fire inside of them, and use it instead of talking about it, it’s another testament to their mentality.”
After discovering personal and team success at virtually every stage of his soccer journey, Morris faced adversity for nearly two consecutive years. Morris’ sophomore professional season was plagued with injuries and frustration. He battled an ankle injury for most of the first half of year, then was sidelined with a hamstring strain in September.
He made a full recovery during the offseason before suffering the biggest setback of his young career on Feb. 22, 2018. He tore his ACL in the first competitive match of the season, a game against El Salvador’s Santa Tecla in the first leg of the Round of 16 of CONCACAF Champions League. Morris missed the entire season.
“That was frustrating for me,” Morris said. “I just have very high expectations for myself. It’s frustrating. It’s good because I have that competitive side, but I also have the side with my family, friends and girlfriend.”
For an intense competitor like Morris, he spent nearly a year missing the very thing that fuels him. In his spare time, “FIFA” and “Fortnite” partially filled a void, but he yearned to get back onto the field.
“I was competing against myself,” Morris said of his recovery. “On the tough days, I tried to push through mentally and physically because that’s all I could do.”
Finally healthy, Morris has burst back onto the scene in 2019. He scored twice in his first competitive game, a 4-1 win over FC Cincinnati on an emotional night at CenturyLink Field and was named MLS Player of the Week. He also returned to the USMNT after a year and a half when he earned two caps in friendlies against Ecuador and Chile in late March.
“Jordan has come back with a very strong mentality,” said Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. “Jordan had worked extremely hard in the gym and he was extremely motivated from a mental standpoint to prove that he can play and play at a high level.”
Not much has changed from the childhood-version of Morris who had “FIFA 06” privileges taken away from him. A competitor is who he is, but he does his best to direct it appropriately.
“At times when you know you can be competitive, then you flip that switch on,” Morris said. “For me, there’s so much more to life than that. When I am not in those moments, I push it aside.
“My whole thing is that I am very lucky and blessed to do what I do,” he continued. “So, I am going to work hard and be the best player I can be, but I know there’s more to life than that.”