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Jordan Morris: Behind a Star

[raw] (TRI NGUYEN/The Stanford Daily).

Jordan Morris wants to be about more than just soccer.

Fans know of him for having three caps since being called up to the USMNT in September, the last of which marked his first start for the team. During the game, he secured a deflected ball and shot it right past Mexico’s goalie, scoring the team’s first goal of the night.

(The goal, as well as his overall performance, earned him consideration for man of the match, yet he was later determined ineligible because the award, sponsored by Budweiser, cannot be given to a player under 21.)

Soccer enthusiasts also know him for passing up an opportunity to play professionally with the Seattle Sounders, his hometown team, and instead deciding to return to the Farm to finish his last two years of college.

Yet what lies relatively unexplored by the media is what exists beyond his soccer accomplishments.

“It would be cool to be known [for] my soccer career. It would be great to be known as that, but I think more than that I just want to leave a reputation as a family man, a guy that’s willing to help others.”

Morris grew up playing soccer with his older brother Christopher on Mercer Island, located in the middle of Lake Washington, 10 minutes southeast of Seattle. After watching Christopher play soccer, Jordan tried it out for himself, starting with a recreational league before eventually joining the same club as his brother.

“We used to play mini-soccer just in the backyard and pretend we were the stars of the world,” Morris said.

While Christopher was Jordan’s training partner, their father Michael consistently pushed Jordan to improve his game. Michael, an orthopedic surgeon who became the Chief Medical Director of the Seattle Sounders when the club was formed in 2009, was both Jordan’s coach in recreational leagues and also one of his top motivators. Recognizing that Jordan, like many kids his age, lacked the focus and drive to practice his game for hours on end, Michael would offer his son rewards after accomplishing certain feats — 10 juggles in a row, for example, would earn Jordan a trip to Chuck E. Cheese.

As the two brothers got older, Christopher would bring Jordan, four years his junior, to play in matchups with his friends.

“He was always athletic enough to keep up,” Christopher said. “At first, people weren’t really sure why the kid who was four years younger than us was coming, and then he’d be the best player out there.”

Despite always being a star on the field, Jordan wanted to deflect the attention away from him and not outshine his teammates.

“He never really rubbed how good he was in other people’s faces,” Christopher said. “When he was a sophomore in high school, he was the best player on his varsity team. He’d come off on the sideline and he was almost worried that if he did something too good, he would show up the other kids on the team.”

This humility continues to define Jordan today.

“When he got the U.S. national team call-up his first thought was, ‘Is it ok if I go? I’m going to ditch all the other guys on my team in the middle of the season?’ Jordan is and always has been the kind of person that’s a great teammate and one that people seem to love playing with,” Christopher said.

As often happens with siblings, Christopher and Jordan’s athletic, academic and career paths diverged: Chris went on to play soccer at Seattle University from 2009 to 2012, while Jordan finished up high school in Mercer Island. Now, Christopher works as an accountant in Seattle, while Jordan has spent the past two years at Stanford and has already received offers to play professional soccer.

Jordan has faced difficult decisions as he’s encountered these opportunities — most recently, whether he should stay at Stanford or leave to play for the Seattle Sounders. Christopher has provided a sounding board for his younger brother.

“He’s just a great person to talk to. He’ll be really honest with me about anything, so I can trust what he has to say,” Jordan said. “With that whole trying to decide whether to stay or go [issue], I had a lot of questions and concerns about both sides and he was there to support me.”

Morris plans to delay going pro until he graduates, after which he will likely play for the Sounders. But whether he will want to spend the entirety of his professional career playing in the MLS or maximize his game by going overseas is unclear, and in Jordan’s mind, still undetermined. While playing for Seattle would allow him to be close to his family, the best players and clubs are in Europe.

For a self-described homebody, who as a kid used to dread going to camps because he wouldn’t be home and with his family, the prospect of being so removed from his three siblings — Christopher, his other older brother Julian and his younger sister Talia — as well as his parents will undoubtedly be a major, if not paramount, factor in his decision.

“I always say family first because they’re the people who are going to be there for the rest of your life,” Jordan said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people [playing] in Europe and they love it, and the level is very high, but they definitely can get lonely, and it takes a special type of person.”

“They’ve said, ‘If you’re a family man, and you want to be around your family and you’re a homebody,’ which I see myself as that kind of person, they said it might be kind of tough to go over to Europe,” he said.

Jordan Morris (TRI NGUYEN/The Stanford Daily)

(TRI NGUYEN/The Stanford Daily)

In an effort not to ruin Christmas for 9-year-old Jordan, his parents waited until the 26th to take him for a doctor’s visit that would change his life.

Jordan was diagnosed with type I diabetes, a condition in which the pancreas produces little to no insulin, a hormone that helps convert sugar and other starches into energy.

“I had never heard about it before. Plus, the name kind of scared me a little bit — the ‘di’ part. I had no idea what it was, so it kind of freaked me out a little bit,” Morris said. “But my dad is a doctor and my mom is a nurse, and they told me it was all going to be okay and comforted me. It was scary at first, but then I learned to deal with it.”

Diabetes can be tough to manage for anyone, let alone a kid.

“Everything happens for a reason, and in some ways it was a blessing in disguise because it taught me a lot of things at such a young age,” Morris added. “It taught me to be very responsible at nine years of age because you have to take care of this thing. I think it helped me get to Stanford.”

That is not to minimize the effects of the disease. Playing such a high level of soccer with diabetes means that Jordan must ensure that his blood sugar levels are right before he practices and competes. On his right arm, he has a tattoo of a medical symbol with “TD1” (Type 1 Diabetic) over it, in case of a medical emergency. When he started for the national team in April, his adrenaline caused his blood sugar to get out of whack before the game, adding serious health concerns to the nerves he was already feeling.

Instead of allowing diabetes to hold him back throughout his athletic career, Jordan has thrived in spite of it, against the odds and even the doubts of his father.

“My dad was talking to my mom and he said, ‘Yeah, I don’t think he’s going to be able to go very far with it.’ He didn’t even really think I’d be able to play college soccer,” he said.

Little did he know that his son would one day not only play in college, but also play for the USMNT and, in his first start for the team, score a goal — all before he turned 21.

Since the game, and the week after when he played for the U-23 team and scored again, Jordan has come to realize how he can take advantage of his recent exposure to set an example for young kids with diabetes who have high aspirations.

“One of the coolest parts about being able to score in those games is seeing the replies from a lot of young diabetics or people out there who have diabetes as well,” Jordan said. “It’s been so cool to just see how people have been so supportive of me and looking up to me in that way to achieve their goals in spite of their diabetes. And that’s one of my main goals, I kind of want to be an advocate for that.”

Acknowledging that he cannot play soccer his whole life, Morris has already put some thought into dedicating his post-soccer career to working with and helping out kids with diabetes. He and his mother have discussed perhaps starting a nonprofit or working with a preexisting organization in the Seattle area.

Jordan Morris (TRI NGUYEN/The Stanford Daily)

(TRI NGUYEN/The Stanford Daily)

While many would argue that going pro now would be best for Morris’s career, he sacrificed what might be immediately beneficial for his game and instead looked at what would serve him best throughout his entire life.

“Continuing my education here was super important to me and getting closer to my degree, because I obviously want to get my degree someday, and coming back with two, two and a half years to finish would be a lot tougher here,” Morris said.

In the meantime, he intends to major in Science, Technology and Society (STS), a broad major that would allow him to study many different topics with the goal of eventually figuring out what he’s most passionate about.

While still applying himself in the classroom — he earned Pac-12 All-Academic Second Team honors this past season — Morris has been able to shine on the field. During his freshman year, he made the All-Pac-12 First Team, ending the season with 6 goals and 7 assists, an incredible feat for his first year playing college ball. This season, despite missing four games due to USMNT commitments, he placed third on the team in scoring, with 4 goals and 6 assists.

Those statistics, however, do not convey how much an impact he had on the team, which won the Pac-12 tournament championship this year, its first since 2001. Accordingly, Morris earned another spot on the All-Pac-12 First Team, as well as the NSCAA/Continental Tire First Team All-American and Top Drawer Soccer Best XI First Team lists — all with another two years to play.

But at the end of the day, the thing that has mattered most to him about his Stanford experience hasn’t been his performance on the field; rather, it’s the relationships that he’s fostered with his family — his Stanford family.

“Off the field, the thing I’ll remember most about soccer is the team and just how close we are,” Morris said. “After the games when we win, we all go sing in the showers, we have songs for everyone and we have songs about who scored goals.”

Contact Alexa Philippou at aphil723 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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