KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Jeremy Gunn wants you to know Stanford is more than just Jordan Morris and the Super Friends.
During Stanford’s pre-College Cup final press conference, Gunn was asked about Morris’s impact in and out of Stanford’s lineup with USMNT duty this season. After making a light-hearted quip about Morris’s bad taste in music, Gunn paused for a minute and referenced a statistic that might be cloaked to most of America.
“I think we’ve never lost a game without him, right?” Gunn asked his sports information director.
The answer spit back from the rear of the room in the affirmative. Since Morris joined the program in 2013, Stanford is 7-0-2 in games he doesn’t play.
“(Morris) has been fantastic,” said Gunn, who's been in multiple College Cups but his first with Stanford. “He’s an electrifying player to watch. He brings incredible assets to the team. But just like in every situation, people will be injured, suspended, in our case away on national team duty. You can think about who’s not available or the people who are available. They go out and play incredibly well.”
Stanford has a chance at glory on Sunday when the Cardinal meet up with Clemson at 2 p.m. ET at Sporting Park. After a draining penalty shootout Stanford won in 10 rounds over Akron, it’s already time to refocus.
Gunn has been here before, even if none of Stanford’s players have. Most notably, in 2011 Gunn led former program Charlotte to the title game before the 49ers fell to North Carolina. Months later he was on his way to The Farm, where it took him just four seasons to push the Cardinal back into the College Cup final for the first time since 2002. If they win, it’ll be a program first.
Almost all of the national headlines have revolved around Morris this season, and that’s understandable for Stanford’s players. Morris became the first college player since 1999 to be called up to the full national team last year, and earlier this year he scored in a win against Mexico to shovel bushels of coal into the hype train furnace.
But as Gunn alluded to, Stanford has never lost with Morris out of the lineup. That isn’t to say Stanford is better without Morris - only a charlatan would make that argument - but rather to tout the talent on the rest of the roster. This Stanford team is not top-heavy. Its strength is in its depth.
Whether Foster Langsdorf is picking up scoring slack, prized freshman Amir Bashti is coming off the bench to provide a late-game injection or the central midfield duo of Ty Thompson and Slater Meehan is wrecking attacks, Stanford has top-end quality everywhere. Having Morris as the cake-topper is just a bonus.
The real reason Gunn and the entire Stanford roster is so confident for Sunday’s meeting, though, is largely because they feel they can play any style, match any threat and morph to meet any challenge. Gunn believes he’s truly built one of the most versatile lineups in the country. Whether Stanford looks to push it through the middle or lag back and go over the top to Morris, they’ve done both.
Based on the results, it’s hard to argue.
“Clemson, they’ll drop off a little bit deeper I think because they’ve not got quite as much pace at the back,” Gunn said. “Hopefully that should give us a little bit more time, a little bit more space to hold the ball some of the time. But again, we can have a slow build-up, we can have a quick, assertive attack. It doesn’t really matter to us.”
As for Morris, one can only guess at the direction of his headspace entering Sunday. He’ll have a mighty big decision awaiting after the match, whether he opts to stay in college or turn pro, presumably accepting the monster Homegrown deal offered by the Seattle Sounders. It is the most anticipated decision by an American college soccer player in perhaps the entire modern history of the sport.
All that will be tossed aside for 90 minutes - or perhaps more, judging by the semifinals - on Sunday here at Sporting Park. Morris, his teammates and everyone else will await the result, and what comes after, with baited breath.