- Associated Press - Sunday, March 3, 2019

SEATTLE (AP) - After Jordan Morris’ shot caused the net to ripple, the dogpile started. His Seattle Sounders teammates all rushed to Morris as he laid on the turf, wanting a chance to celebrate a moment more than a year in the making.

If there was any question about Morris’ ability to return from a major knee injury, it may have been answered on the first night of the 2019 MLS season.

“My teammates helped me get through last year because there were some tough times so leaning on them and then coming in this year they understood it was going to take a little time for me to get back to full and get back to having my touches right and all that, and they were always supportive,” Morris said. “To kind of have that team embrace after the goals was something special.”

Playing his first MLS regular season match since September 2017, Morris scored a pair of first-half goals, Kelvin Leerdam added another in the first 45 minutes, and the Sounders opened 2019 with a 4-1 romp over expansion FC Cincinnati.

The debut of the newest MLS franchise was overshadowed by Morris’ return after missing the entire 2018 season due to a torn ACL in his right knee suffered while playing in the CONCACAF Champions League. Energized and rejuvenated after the year-long recovery, Morris was a burden for the expansion squad, bursting down both wings and finding himself in dangerous scoring positions.

He scored his first goal in the 33rd minute after switching sides of the field, hitting a right-footed shot that slightly deflected off Cincinnati defender Nick Hagglund and past goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton to give Seattle a 2-1 lead. It was Morris’ first goal since Aug. 5, 2017 and his first goal at home since March 19, 2017. The celebration was simply an exclamation in the completion of his recovery from the knee injury.

Ten minutes later, Morris collected his second as Victor Rodriguez’s cross rolled dangerous through the penalty area and Morris finished with his left foot. It was the second two-goal game of Morris’ career, the only other coming during his rookie season in 2016.

“There are times I feel like a proud dad,” Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said. “That happens. I’m proud of all the guys in that locker room. They did a great job tonight staying composed.”

Morris was subbed off in the 77th minute to a rousing ovation from the home fans.

“That’s what gave me the motivation last year to keep working hard during the tough times was for this moment to come back and hear that crowd noise and be back playing on this field,” Morris said.

Leerdam scored Seattle’s first goal in the 27th minute after a cross from Nicolas Lodeiro was deflected by Tyton and Leerdam was in the perfect position to clean up the loose ball. Three of the four Seattle goals were scored by players who didn’t score for the club in the 2018 season.

Raul Ruidiaz provided the capper in the 87th minute after scoring 10 goals in just 14 matches last season.

Cincinnati‘s debut as the 24th MLS franchise could not have started better. Its section of traveling fans filling an upper section of CenturyLink Field was given a stunning early memory thanks to Leonardo Bertone. Despite Seattle controlling the early action, Bertone wrote his place in club history with a perfectly struck volley from 25 yards out that beat Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei in the 13th minute and gave Cincinnati a 1-0 lead. The goal served as the lone highlight on a night the expansion squad looked very much like its title, but capped a wild year that saw the franchise capitalize on its massive success as a USL team and be awarded a spot in MLS just 277 days before its debut game.

“It was a good positive start to go a goal up. It’s almost the worst possible thing sometimes to score on the road too early against a good team,” FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch said. “Because they came to life and they kept coming at us.”


More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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