Bruce Arena found Jordan Morris not long after the final whistle blew to offer some encouraging words to the U.S. forward, who had just helped deliver another CONCACAF Gold Cup title to the men’s soccer team.
Arena learned a little more about the young American in one half of soccer that began with a costly mistake and finished with a spectacular strike.
“I said, ‘You made up for the goal you gave away for us.’ And then I said, ‘You hit that ball pretty good,’ ” the U.S. coach recalled. “Those kind of moments are important for a player. That’s a big step he took tonight, so I’m real pleased with that.”
The Sounders star who played at nearby Stanford scored a tiebreaking goal in the 88th minute, lifting the U.S. past Jamaica 2-1 on Wednesday night for the Americans’ sixth Gold Cup title and first since 2013.
In a span of 19 months, Morris has won an NCAA title in 2015 with Stanford, scoring the first two goals in a 4-0 rout of Clemson; won the 2016 MLS Cup for his hometown Sounders, who beat Toronto on penalty kicks; and now added a Gold Cup medal to his growing collection.
“Some of those still haven’t set in,” he said. “It’s pretty special to be part of three great teams. It’s awesome to be part of championships because they don’t come around too often. It’s very exciting.”
Morris’ goal came after he lost his mark on Je-Vaughn Watson, who evened the score in the 50th minute with a 4-yard volley off Kemar Lawrence’s corner kick.
“It definitely lingers around a little bit. To be honest, I’ve never really had anything like that in my career where I was kind of at fault for the other team scoring like that,” Morris said. “It was tough to get over, especially in such a big game. My teammates were great and for me. It just helped to keep pushing forward and try to make a difference. It was a sense of relief almost that I could try and make up for my mistake.”
Morris got mad. His teammates all saw it.
And they appreciated seeing those emotions from a guy who doesn’t always show them.
“He’s a strong boy, mentally and physically,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “You could see disappointment on his face after the goal. On defensive set pieces people get lost in the shuffle You get picked off sometimes, that happens. You can’t really point the finger and blame. But look, you saw it on his face. He was annoyed.”
Morris had finished his freshman year at Stanford when the U.S. national team based there ahead of the 2014 World Cup and scrimmaged against the collegians. He impressed Jurgen Klinsmann, then the American coach, and made his national team debut that November in an exhibition at Ireland – the first college player to appear for the national team since Ante Razov in 1995.
“My predecessor did an outstanding job in getting him involved in the program,” said Arena, who replaced Klinsmann last fall.
Morris’ got the breakthrough goal with a 14-yard right-footed shot after Gyasi Zardes crossed. Jermaine Taylor tried to clear with a header and the ball was knocked by Clint Dempsey with a leg back to Morris.
The 22-year-old Morris scored his fifth international goal while tying 16-year-old Canadian Alphonso Davies for the tournament lead with three goals.
“That was like a dagger in the heart,” Jamaica coach Theodore Whitmore said.
Morris has overcome plenty bigger than his mistake at Levi’s Stadium. He has Type 1 diabetes and takes pride that he can be an example for young kids.
“I’m happy for Jordan because that was a tough moment for him. He lost his mark for a second and at this level you lose your mark for one second and it can be a goal, and that’s what happened,” said fellow forward Jozy Altidore, who scored the Americans’ initial goal on a 45th-minute free kick. “I was telling him, making fun of him because the look on his face was so sad. For him to get that chance and bury it, everybody was so thrilled for him. He works so hard. He’s a kid with a lot of potential, a lot of talent and he’s come a long way.”
Still, Morris wants more. He has a lot of soccer left, with his sights set on next summer’s World Cup in Russia.
And Arena’s words when it was all over meant so much. “I love playing for Bruce,” Morris said. “He’s a players’ coach and really does a great job with the guys, so to hear that from him meant a lot. A special moment.”