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Jordan Morris photographed in Queen Anne on January 8, 2017. (How we got that shot)

Image: Brandon Hill

Jordan Morris scored his first goal for the Sounders in the sixth game of the 2016 season. Which doesn’t sound particularly noteworthy, but hoo boy, was it ever. See, he was the Next Big Thing, the latest in a long line of American soccer players preordained to save the sport, a homegrown talent who passed on an opportunity to find fortune and glory in Germany and stuck around stateside. He also happened to be from Mercer Island. And his dad is the team’s medical director. So yeah, six games felt like forever. But maybe you heard what happened next: He got hot, the team won its first MLS Championship, and he got a Rookie of the Year trophy for his mantel. How’d the 22-year-old do it? He remembered to have fun. —Matthew Halverson 

When I was 14 I had to decide what sport I wanted to focus on. My parents were like, “This is too much. We can’t take you to baseball one weekend and soccer the next.” I don’t know if this is why I chose soccer, but the feeling of scoring a goal was hard to replicate in any other sport. Nothing else gave me that excitement and joy. And with soccer you’re always moving, always doing something. So when I stepped onto the field, all of my thoughts, all of my problems kind of went away.

As a kid, I had no idea what diabetes was. So when my doctor told me I had it, the first thing I heard was “die” and it freaked me out. But I was really lucky because my mom was a nurse and my dad is a doctor. So they helped me through it. The first question my mom asked the doctor was, “Can he still play sports?” And he said, “The more sports he plays, the better.”

You walk into a locker room to play with pro athletes for the first time, and you’re going to be super nervous. You look at their resumes and think of them as otherworldly. But having that access at a younger age, being able to meet them and talk to them, it definitely helped. My dad would come home from work talking about them, and it brought them down to earth.

My family got tickets to every Sounders game when they became an MLS team. So to go from sitting in the stands to standing on the field is pretty special. The PA announcer does this thing when he’s introducing the players where he says the first name and then the fans yell the last name. When I dreamed about playing for the Sounders I’d imagine that. And when it happened at my first game, I got chills: This can’t be real.

There are times when you just try to get your laces through the ball and hope. But most of the time you have to find the goalie and decide where to place it based on that. Then there’s what part of your foot you want to use—do you want to hit it hard or curl it? You have to do all that in a split second.

American soccer fans see a young player coming up and they get really excited. But that comes with some unrealistic expectations that are going to be hard to live up to. It was really tough for me to deal with all of that. And in my first five or so games I let the pressure get to me. I was almost playing to not make a mistake rather than playing to make something happen.

My coach said, “You look like you’re having no fun out there. Soccer is about having the right combination of professionalism and fun. I want to see you smile more. I want to see you be happy when you’re out on the soccer field. You have to still be focused and be professional, but I want to see you have fun.” I think that switched something in my brain.

Five games in the span of a professional career is nothing, but people are already writing you off. That’s when I realized how big the expectations really were, and I was surprised by how quickly people’s opinion could change negatively. So I stopped reading Twitter, stopped reading the paper, just pushed everything out. I think it helped to be around my family. If I was over in Germany by myself and things weren’t going right, it would have been tough.

I still live at home. I get a lot of flak for that from opposing fans when I’m warming up. But hey, my mom makes me dinner. It’s awesome. I’ll live at home as long as I can.

I want to be a more confident player. I don’t have enough—I mean, I have confidence. But there are some moments when I will…I don’t know how to explain it. My biggest issue coming into last season was that I put that responsibility off on other players and let them take that role. But this season I want to be the guy to have the ball, the guy who scores the big goals. I want to own that responsibility.

It’s frustrating when people write off MLS. But you ask guys who come from overseas what they thought about it before and what they think about after playing in it, and the majority of them say it’s much more difficult than they thought it would be. But what’s exciting is how much it has already grown in the U.S. You saw all of those fans who came out to our parade. It’s exciting to be part of that growth.

To win the first championship with Seattle is pretty special. But you get a taste of victory and you think, Okay, now I want to do more. You celebrate for a week or whatever, and then you start to get that feeling where you want another one: Let’s get two, get three, get four. The LA Galaxy, they have five. We want to catch up.

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