Lots of people will tell you that 2016 was an eventful year for them, but when Jordan Morris says it, he means it. The 22-year-old started the year with a tryout at Werder Bremen, a move he seriously considered before ultimately signing his first professional contract with his hometown Seattle Sounders. All the hard work he put in since making the team at Mercer Island High School had finally paid off, and the reward was more hard work and more responsibility. Not that Morris ever backs down from a challenge— after all, you can’t build yourself up into one of Major League Soccer’s most promising young forwards while managing Type 1 Diabetes without an ambitious streak and a strong work ethic. He was instrumental in pulling the Sounders up from the foot of the Western Conference into a playoff spot, and then defy the odds to lift the MLS Cup last weekend. Along the way he’s pushed for as many minutes as he can get with the USMNT, eyeing up an opportunity to help push that stalled car up the hill and into the 2018 World Cup.
So, yeah. 2016. Bit of a year.
We got to talk to Morris last week about his incredible first season with the Sounders, developing his game while managing Diabetes, and what it means to play in front of the hometown crowd.
First of all, congratulations. You’re a newly minted MLS Cup Champion, you just came off the victory rally in Seattle. How does it feel?
Jordan Morris: Yeah, it’s amazing. Personally after that rally, seeing how many people came out to support us and just that they’ve been behind us all season. We’re happy we could bring a championship back to our fans. Definitely a dream come true.
You grew up in Seattle. The Sounders are sort of your hometown team, and I know playing for them and winning a championship must have been really special. I’m sure winning a championship. Walk me through how it felt to bring the Sounders’ first MLS Cup home and be in front of your people.
Morris: It’s hard to put into words, because I was a big fan obviously when I was younger. Being able to play in front of my friends and my family is a gift. I know exactly where my parents sit during the game and I wave to them before every game. It’s just a really special experience to be able to play in front of my hometown fans and my friends. That’s just been amazing. Like I said, Seattle is such a great city for sports, and to be able to be a part of that legacy and be a part of that tradition and just reaffirm that Seattle is a championship caliber city is awesome.
You’ve had a crazy year. You started with a tryout at Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga, and you decided not to go that route. You signed your first professional contract with the Sounders. You started with them at the beginning of the season. You went through the lowest points of the year with them. At one point you were near the bottom of the Western Conference, and now you are being paraded around as a champion in front of your own fans. How did you cope?
Morris: It was crazy and there were a lot of ups and downs, but if you can kind of ride the wave rather than getting too high about the ups or too low about the lows, just staying neutral, as best you can staying in the middle. Because I definitely got too low sometimes about the low and it really affected how I played, especially at the beginning of the year. Trying to figure out how to find that balance in your life, I felt, was really important.
When things were really low (and then also when things were really high), who at the club did you look to for guidance, for stability, for any kind of reprieve from the pressure? Who were the leaders in that dressing room over the summer when things were really bad? Who did you look to for support?
Morris: My teammates have been super helpful. All of the veterans know that that’s part of the life of an athlete is that there’s going to be ups and downs. So guys like Brad Evans, Nelson Valdez, Clint, Chad Marshall. Guys like that who have been through it and understand the difficulties of playing a season in professional soccer. Those guys have been great just giving me advice and helping me through the tough times. And obviously I have a good friend in Christian Roldan on the team, so we’re able to talk to each other when things are tough and can kind of help each other out with that. And then obviously I still live at home. I think outside the club, my family has been great with helping me out when times are difficult. Just being surrounded by them is awesome.
You were diagnosed with Type-1 Diabetes when you were nine years old. It’s a tough thing to manage and live with, even if you’re a regular kid, and you were not a regular kid. Right? You’re an elite, professional athlete, so you had very particular challenges, and then you had to manage this on top of it. How did you balance it? How did you do your training and stay fit and do everything you need to do to build yourself up to be able to do this for a living and also stay healthy while coping with diabetes?
Morris: As an athlete especially you’ve really got to be on top of your management because when you’re going into games or training or anything your blood sugar has to be in the right range or else you can really affect how you play. So for me it was just a case of being very, very on top of my needs as well as taking advantage of new technology that have come out. I got an insulin pump when I was 14 and that helped to change my life, and recently I started wearing a Dexcom continuous glucose monitor, which I also feel has changed my life in the sense that before games I would have had to check my blood sugar six or seven times in the hour leading up to the game to make sure like I said that it’s in the right range. But now I wear a monitor on my body and it has a sensor and a transmitter that reads my blood sugar every five minutes to my cellphone. So instead of having to worry about what my blood sugar is and check it six, seven times like I said, it just gives this reading every five minutes and lets me know where my blood sugar is headed, whether it’s going up or down. So a device like this has really helped me in my life because going into a game you’re totally focused on the game. You want to not have any other distractions outside of just focusing on how well you can play and what you can do for the team.
Yeah, I didn’t know that technology existed! That sounds really awesome and Star Trek-ish. that’s really cool that you have that at your disposal to help manage things. Beyond the technology, what does your match day prep look like compared to your teammates? What specific things do you have to look out for that the other guys on the squad don’t? Does that make training more difficult, or does the technical staff and the coach and the squad just kind of move around it?
Morris: So for me I think the difference is, obviously, I really have to watch what I eat. Over time I’ve done trial and error with different things and found out what works for me in terms of my diet and nutrition before games and before practice in order to try and keep my blood sugar stable. So I think I guess that would be a little bit different. There are certain times before a game where I shouldn’t be eating or certain hours before the game in which I should be eating, so that can be tough, because there’s some times before a game where I want to eat something but my blood sugar is high so I can’t really do that. And then in terms of training, the technical staff— including my dad, who is actually the team doctor for the Sounders, and having him there has been awesome— they all know my condition and respect it and help me in any ways that they can. Obviously the technology like I said have been super beneficial to me.
There’s a bit of a negative stigma with Diabetes, where it’s associated with people who don’t take care of themselves, who are in poor health, who are struggling with obesity. Obviously that’s not a thing for you. You are in very good health, you’re a professional athlete. But there’s still this negative stigma, especially when it comes to Type-1 because most people are more familiar with Type-2. What would you want the general public to know about diabetes and people who live with it that they might not otherwise? What kind of stigmas would you want dispelled?
Morris: I love talking about this because I think you’re right. There are some negative stigmas around diabetes, especially in the sense that it can hold you back from doing what you want to do. For me as a kid, obviously I knew I wanted to be a professional athlete, so looking at other professional athletes who had diabetes at the time gave me a huge boost. And I was so inspired by them, seeing that they were accomplishing their dreams. So for me, I hope to get that out there, and for the younger generation in general, being that inspiration to show kids that with all these new technologies at their disposal, if they really work hard at taking care of their Diabetes that they can accomplish whatever they want. Hopefully I can be an example for them in that sense and just try to be that inspiration, because I know how valuable that was to me and my family when I was young and just diagnosed to see someone really succeeding in their practice, whatever it may be, even with this disease. So just getting that word out there that it can’t really hold you back and it doesn’t define who you are or define your life.
You were instrumental in the Sounders turning their season around. They went from near bottom of the Western Conference over the summer to parading the MLS Cup through downtown Seattle. You were a big part of that. There’s a National Team camp next month, which you may or may not be invited to, and hopefully this will be an opportunity for you to get in the team for World Cup qualifiers in March and over the summer. So helped turn the Sounders around, and the USMNT is in a bit of a tight spot with qualifying (although there’s still plenty of time to turn it around). Can you repeat your success with the Sounders for the National Team? How are you going to approach next year as far as your place in the team and helping send them to Russia in 2018?
Morris: I mean I think it’s always my goal to try and get back in with the National Team and hopefully I can get some more minutes on the field. I know that I have a lot to keep working on in order to become the player that I want to be and make the next step. So for me it’s just a case of working as hard as I can on the things that I know I need to get better at, and if I get a chance to go into camp and get a chance to play in a game, just try to do my best. There’s nothing else you can really have, just going out there and playing with confidence and trying to make my mark on the team or on practice every single time I play. So for me that’s kind of the mentality that I’ve gone with.
What’ s your single favorite thing about living in Seattle?
Morris: I mean, I love that my family is there. My whole family is around there, so that’s been great for me. But I also love that there’s so much to do. There’s the city, you can go hiking or go up to the mountains and go skiing. There’s water. It’s just such a variety of things that you can do and to also be surrounded by family, it’s a pretty special place, and obviously it’s my home so it’s awesome to be back living there.