TORONTO, CANADA - OCTOBER 1: Ashtone Morgan #5 of Toronto FC races for the ball with Dane Richards #19 of New York Red Bulls during MLS action at BMO Field October 1, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
This has to have already been the most exciting year in Ashtone Morgan's young life but when he came onto the field for Canada in the 71st minute it must have gone down as one of the high points. He had very little time in the game to make an impact but after a few nervy touches he settled in enough to pick up an assist on one of Canada's record setting 7 goals. His performance is of far less significance then the fact that he decided to commit to Canada and then the national team took notice of his club performances and gave him a deserved chance. It would not have been the first time that Canada called a young player in to the squad only to not play them in either match so it is good to know that he is now cap-tied and the question of what country he will play for can no longer be asked of Ashtone.
At only 20 years of age Morgan still has a world of potential in front of him and it will be exciting now to watch him develop both as Toronto FC fans and fans of CMNT. He has set out the path for other young kids to look at and in the long run his deciding to play for Canada might just make it "cool" to want to play for the country you grew up in. In some ways Ashtone is the first real product of the MLS coming to Canada and could end up going down as the start of something special even if his career never takes him to a higher level then where he is right now.Ashtone's story with Toronto FC this season was already an impressive one. Morgan joined the TFC Academy back in 2008 which was its first season. He was 16 at the time and had already attacked attention from clubs overseas but instead Morgan made the choice to sign on with the academy at his local club. Having grown up in Toronto Morgan could not have dreamed of playing for Toronto FC since the club did not exist but almost any athlete would tell you that given the chance to play for their home town club they would never turn it down. So for Morgan joining the TFC academy was a great opportunity and he made it count.
Morgan spent two seasons playing for the Academy in the Canadian Soccer League before getting his chance to debut with the senior team less then a year ago. Morgan made his debut for Toronto FC in a CONCACAF Champions League match against Árabe Unido (from Panama) on October 20, 2010. He impressed in that match having a solid game in the back line for such a young player being thrown into such a tough setting. That was his only appearance of the 2010 season but he made it count and was able to get an invite to travel with the senior team to training camp in Turkey. Morgan again impressed in camp and was awarded with a professional contract from the club in March.
This season Morgan has done enough to lock down the starting spot at left back and become one of Toronto FC's most impressive players. His MLS debut came against the Portland Timbers on March 26th. Since then he has made 12 league appearances for the club as well as being a regular in the CCL where he has featured in all 7 of Toronto FC's matches.
Any Toronto FC fan can tell you how impressive Morgan has been for the club and how much of a pleasant surprise his quick rise has been. In a season where the back four has often been nothing short of terrible the consistent performances by Morgan have been a real bright spot. He has only gotten better as the season has gone along and now Coach Stephen Hart has rewarded him by giving him the chance to play for the Canadian team. Morgan had been involved in the youth set up for Canada but he made a rapid jump to the senior team after only 2 caps for the under-20 side.
His performance in the match against St. Lucia was nothing to get overly excited about but the journey he took to get there was what is worth being excited about. In this day and age it seems that too often we as Canadian supporters see players we were hoping would play for Canada choose another country instead, often one that they did not grow up in. For Morgan this was an option as he could have played for Jamaica instead but this time around he made it clear that Canada was the only country he wanted to play for and he got his chance to do that this week. Just like he took the chance to play for the professional club in the city where he grew up and made the most of it he is now looking to do the same by playing for Canada.
For other kids growing up in Canada and playing the game, Morgan now provides the best example of what you can do with talent and hard work. He also has laid out a route for these same young players to make it to the top. If you can excel at your club level and impress enough to join an academy for one of Canada's three MLS teams then you could one day do the same thing that Ashtone Morgan has done and get the chance to represent Canada. Then hopefully as Canada develops more talent without these youngsters being forced to go overseas to look for opportunity, there will be less temptation to play for anyone but Canada and in the long run it will be seen as a good career move to cap for Canada. Certainly for Ashtone Morgan his first cap for Canada is not going to hurt his popularity around Toronto or the rest of the country.
For more on Morgan and his rise to the Canadian National team check out the article about him and his family in the Toronto Star.