Barely 18 months ago, Jordan Morris suffered his second ACL rupture in three years. Now, back to full fitness and a vital member of both the Seattle Sounders and the United States men's national team, he opens up on his rehab and recovery.
The 27-year-old Washington native explains, in his own words, how his life spent managing Type 1 diabetes prepared him for the challenges of returning from multiple serious knee injuries and expands on the array of emotions he's experienced as he nears his goal of playing in a World Cup.
With the U.S. men's national team inside the muddy Estadio Cuscatlan in the CONCACAF Nations League two months ago, I would be lying if I said I didn't think about the last time I was in El Salvador.
The memory from that trip -- a CONCACAF Champions League match with in 2018 with the Sounders -- will never go away. My night ended as my dad, the team's chief medical doctor, led me off the field and broke the news that I'd be out for the season. I'd torn my ACL. It was a devastating injury that had me questionining what would come of my career. In hindsight, it's also a moment that made me further appreciate what has happened since.
But you try not to think about those things during a game, especially since I suffered another ACL tear last year and was still working to rebuild my confidence after a long, grueling rehab process.
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You always have to be ready when your name is called, and that's where my focus was when I started warming up in the second half. It was a wild game. We had just gotten a red card a few minutes before and were down 1-0. The conditions were crazy. The rain and the mud made it an interesting game and as I was standing up there, ready to go in, our opponents got a red card too. My mindset was to help any way I could, but we obviously needed to score a goal.
In the 91st minute, my opportunity came. Weston McKennie had a good header that the keeper saved and it spilled out to the left side of the field. Jesus Ferreira ran over and played a ball back to Luca de la Torre and I just tried to recycle my run and get ready. Then Luca put a great ball in the box and fortunately I was able to finish it.
First of all, it was great for the team. Tying the score and getting out of there with a result was important, but when I was walking back after the initial excitement wore off, the whole journey of last year and the rehab and everything was going through my head. It had been a long time since I had scored for the national team, and so to be able to score in a big game was really exciting. When I score goals like that, I kind of black out. I just get so excited and I don't know exactly what's going on, but I remember running over to the bench and the whole bench came out and it was a big group celebration.
In the locker room after the game, the guys were chanting my name. I think they recognized my journey of last year and everything I went through. To have that group of guys provide all the support meant a lot. I'm a pretty shy guy, so it can be hard to take in the moment, but it was awesome. I learned after my first ACL tear that it takes time to build confidence coming back, and that goal was important for that.
The second ACL tear was even tougher than the first. The damage to my knee was a little more extensive and the situation was more difficult. I had just gotten overseas to Swansea City and was really enjoying myself. At the beginning of my career there was a lot of speculation about whether I was going go to Europe or not. I decided to play for Seattle and have absolutely loved my time here, but it was still a goal and dream of mine to play in Europe.
I married my incredible wife in 2020 and she quit her job and uprooted her life so we could go on this adventure. We had dreams of staying there long term, but my injury happened two weeks after she got there.
We were playing at Huddersfield and I knew exactly what happened right away. And because I was on loan, I knew that meant our time in Europe was over already. Maybe I'll play in Europe again. It's definitely not something I've ruled out. If an opportunity came up in the future, it's definitely something that I would look at, even though I'm really happy in Seattle.
When the injury happened, we had to go straight back to have surgery and start rehab all over again.
I felt like I was really at the peak of my career and was playing the best I had ever played. My thoughts turned to World Cup qualifying. I felt good about how I played with the national team the year before and was doing everything I could to make the World Cup team.
That's the goal I've had since I was a little kid. My brother and I would go to the backyard and pretend to be national team members playing in a World Cup. It's incredibly exciting that it's a possibility. I know I have a lot of work to do to get there, but it would mean everything.
Going through my rehab process last year, whenever I was having a tough day or was getting tired of the rehab or the work, I always told myself that it was going to be worth it to try to be part of this World Cup team.
Setbacks are something I'm used to. I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a child and over the years went from pricking my finger throughout every game to using a Dexcom continuous glucose monitor that provides real-time alerts to my phone, my wife and my coaches. I thought that being a professional athlete while managing this disease was perhaps the biggest obstacle I'd face, but these back-to-back injuries made me realize that, in some ways, the toughness I'd developed in managing such a complex disease prepared me for this.
It was crazy to me how a chronic disease that requires an additional myriad of decisions and choices each day takes a back seat with what could be a career-ending sports injury. But with my diabetes technology and my support system in place, management became second nature, allowing me to focus on coming back from these two injuries. This was so important, as I needed to put every ounce of strength and dedication into rehabbing for a chance at going to the World Cup.
During rehab, I was able to stay busy in other ways. I stayed active with my foundation and last year we hosted our first soccer camp since the start of the pandemic for kids with diabetes. I got the opportunity to spend time with 125 young, aspirational athletes with diabetes, practicing drills and sharing lessons I've learned from my injuries, playing in MLS and living with diabetes.
I also spent my time during recovery by chipping away at my degree in science technology and society from Stanford University. I left there after my junior season to pursue my dream of playing soccer professionally, but I always wanted to go back to school. I promised myself when I left that I would one day finish my degree. Stanford doesn't usually offer online classes, but that changed because of the pandemic. Now I'm close to graduation and know I will finish in the future.
Even though my time off the field was rewarding, one of the roughest parts of being injured was having to watch my team play from the sidelines. Being away from soccer was mentally draining. I had to learn how to compartmentalize these parts of my life and made it a point to take care of my mental and physical health by attending therapy for both. In the long game, showing up and doing the work was worth it because focusing on healing, my mental health, the foundation, my first year of marriage and my college degree really made an impact on who I am.
At first, I didn't expect to play with the Sounders at all in 2021. My injury with Swansea happened in February, which meant my rehab would take just about the entire MLS season. Thankfully, I was able to return for two games in the regular season and our first-round playoff game, which unfortunately we lost on penalties.
Getting those games helped me get into the national team picture. You never know exactly how you're going to come back, so when I got called up to the December camp, it was awesome. It was a great opportunity to get back in with the group and get a game under my belt with a friendly.
But just because I played in that friendly, it didn't mean I would be called back in for the qualifiers in January and February. I needed to earn my place. We had a couple weeks of training in Arizona in January and at the end, when I found out I would be on the qualifying roster, it was incredibly satisfying; satisfying to know all the hard work that I had put in to get there had paid off, but also knowing now it was time to try to show myself in some of these big games.
Playing in those qualifiers was a great experience. To be able to take part in the last six games and then be in the locker room for the celebrations with the team after officially qualifying in Costa Rica was such a surreal feeling. It was something you dream of being a part of.
The group is incredibly close and I have some great friends on the team, so to be able to cap off that journey together was amazing. I remember calling my wife from the field and we both were getting a little emotional talking about the journey of the past year, knowing that we had just qualified for the World Cup.
With all of that going on, we also had a lot we wanted to accomplish in Seattle.
During our preseason, our goal was to win the CONCACAF Champions League. We had some great performances to get to the final, and for a kid from Seattle, seeing the stadium full like that for a massive final that no MLS team has won before was a pretty emotional experience. I remember just walking out for warm-ups and seeing the crowd and feeling the energy. When we were scoring the goals, just knowing in the second half that we were going to win the game, it was surreal.
The rest of the year is very important. In Seattle, we've struggled a bit as a group since winning CCL. The whole focus of the team is getting back on track and getting ourselves into the playoffs. From there, we know we can go on a run, but we are in a tough fight. This is a team that doesn't quit and I know we will keep fighting to the end of the season to get over the line.
For myself personally, it's continuing to work hard and improve every day to be in the best form possible leading into the World Cup. My mindset every day is to continue pushing and working as hard as I can to keep improving to try and be a part of that group.