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Morris the pity

Friday 2nd March 2018

With the news Seattle Sounders have shelved young star Jordan Morris for 2018 following a cruciate ligament injury, it seems MLS will not have its own Wayne Rooney. A Jack Wilshere is more like it.

Sounders were in El Salvador last week for the away leg of their Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 tie with Santa Tecla. Nicolas Lodeiro had put the MLS side ahead on the quarter-hour. Gerson Mayen scored twice in ten minutes after the hour, turning the match on its head. Had the score been the only issue, Seattle would have been in decent shape. A 1-0 victory in the return leg will see them through on away goals. Then Morris went to ground on 83 minutes and did not get up.

A small share of the blame can be parsed to Major League Soccer’s summer schedule. Playing a competitive continental match in preseason isn’t ideal. That said, Morris is not having good luck with injury in his young career.

After rebuffing Werder Bremen’s advances to sign with hometown side Seattle coming out of Stanford University, Morris had a strong debut season in 2016. He scored 12 goals, assisted on three, and played in all 34 league contests. During the Sounders six-game march to the MLS Cup, he added another two goals and a helper.

In 2017, however, he missed 79 days and nine league matches with a muscle injury. His output dipped drastically. His line read just three goals and two assists in 23 matches. Those numbers barely eclipsed his playoff output from 2016. During the Sounders failed title defence in the 2017 postseason he was a little-used substitute, making two appearances totalling 33 minutes.

The injury affected his national team status as well. He had impressed then-USMNT boss Bruce Arena, who was vainly trying to pick up the pieces from Jurgen Klinsmann’s failed project. Arena preferred his skills to the more prolific Dom Dwyer in Concacaf Gold Cup matches before the muscle injury cost Morris the 2017 season’s run-in.

Now Sounders general manager Garth Lagerway has announced Morris won’t play for the team in 2017.

Part of what we have seen is that guys that come back in that six-month time frame have a much higher rate of re-injury. So, part of what we're looking at here in ruling Jordan out for the season is not what's best for the Sounders in 2018, but what's best for Jordan Morris in terms of his career.

Lagerway cited Kyle Schwarber, an outfielder for 2016 World Series Champions Chicago Cubs, as inspiring the Sounders caution regarding Morris’ recovery. Schwarber came back quickly from a similar injury to post significantly inferior numbers. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is another example, shelved again by Manchester United after returning weeks ahead of schedule from his 2017 cruciate ligament surgery. Lagerway need only have referenced Morris’ own 2017 season as reason to take a step back.

On the other hand, the move isn’t entirely altruistic. The Sounders do have a great deal invested in Morris. Transferring his salary from the active roster frees up nearly $250,000 for the club to sign another player. In Premier League terms, that would only keep Paul Pogba or Alexis Sanchez in training for a couple days. In the Major League Soccer economy, it could make all the difference.

Although Wayne Rooney is three inches shorter and only gives up a single pound per inch, he and Morris are similar talents. Both are built like fireplugs and bring the physicality to their games to match. Morris has similar pace to a younger Rooney and they both can find either teammates or the back of the net.

The Everton and United legend famously endured a series of ankle and metatarsal injuries from 2003 through 2011 that probably shortened his career. Yet he was rarely out for more than a week or two. In 2016 a knee injury kept him out for the longest stretch of his career: 11 games over 52 days. One has to wonder what might have been had he a) been more fortunate and b) barring that, more patient in recovery?

Similarly, one hopes Seattle has made the right decision in shelving the 23-year-old for the year. His talent holds similar promise to Rooney’s. It would be a shame for him not to realise his potential.

Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin contributes frequently to Stretty News and is the author of the short story collection strange bOUnce. He has appeared in several other blogs which, sadly, have ceased to exist. He is old and likes to bring out defunct. Although football is his primary passion, the geezer enjoys many sports and pop culture forms. Expect them to intrude upon his meanderings for It's Round and It's White.

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