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TFC Top 30 Countdown: #24 Ashtone Morgan

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The Top 30 Countdown continues with academy graduate and long-time member of the club Ashtone Morgan, who falls to #24 after a season to forget that saw him languish on the sidelines as a rarely used substitute.

Morgan, taking one for the team, is sent off in Philadelphia
Morgan, taking one for the team, is sent off in Philadelphia
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

2014 was another tough year for Ashtone Morgan, who finished last season's countdown in a lofty tenth position.

Playing in his fourth season with the Toronto FC, one of four homegrown signings in the third wave of academy graduates back before the 2011 season, Morgan rose to prominence under Aron Winter, earning high praise from Paul Mariner thereafter, establishing himself as a regular starter and a threat from his left-back position.

But under Ryan Nelsen, his progress seemed to stall, unsure of how to balance his attacking instincts with the more-solid defensive requirements that Nelsen desired from his outside backs. And when Justin Morrow was acquired in the off-season, it was clear that his minutes would be diminished.

In fact, 2014 marked the fewest minutes he has seen since joining the club, playing just 168 over the course of the season – compare to over 900 in his rookie season (903, to be exact) and 2528 and 1805 in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Those scant minutes came in the course of just three matches, coming on for one minute in the season opener before being virtually banished by Nelsen to the background, only to pick up a red card against Philadelphia in his September return in Greg Vanney's first match - for hauling down Sebastian Le Toux as the Union striker bore down on goal.

He would play one further match, lasting the full ninety in the 1-1 draw in Chicago – the infamous phantom foul call on Gilberto that robbed TFC of the much-needed full points – before returning to the bench with Morrow fit and ready to resume his starting role.

Morgan would represent TFC in the inaugural Chipotle Homegrown Game during the All-Star festivities, along side many of the most promising young players in MLS.

Despite the setback in his club career, Morgan has continued to be a fixture in the Canadian National team, having been included in two of the last three rosters and currently in camp for Tuesday's match against Panama.

So what does the future hold for Morgan, who signed a 'long-term' deal back in 2012? – the status of which is unclear in the murky contractual deals of MLS.

According to the most recent salary figures released by the Player's Union, Morgan receives a base amount of $80 000, with a guaranteed compensation of $92 000, which is a little high, but comparable to some of the upper echelon entry level deals the more recent homegrown signings and draft picks have been receiving elsewhere. It accounts for roughly 1/31st of the $3.1 million salary cap – hardly an egregious amount for a squad player, assuming he is used regularly – which admittedly he was not in 2013.

Until the details of the new Collective Bargain Agreement are declared, it will be difficult to know if that is an acceptable expenditure for a player in Morgan's role. That said, if he continues to play so few minutes, that figure will eventually become a problem. By means of comparison, Morrow earns nearly double that mark, so an understudy at half the cost, appears reasonable.

Vanney was far more willing than Nelsen to give the once-promising youth time to regain his footing on the pitch, and given the new manager's stated intent to get much more forward movement from his full-backs, Morgan can definitely be an asset to the side. Toronto will not have any CONCACAF commitments next season, but the Voyageurs Cup will provide some extra minutes for squad players.

In some ways, Morgan was a victim of his own success, as well as the lack of depth in 2014 TFC: too vital as a reserve to be loaned out to Wilmington, but not enough of a factor to displace a Morrow who barely put a foot wrong this season.

No doubt the 23 year-old Morgan would have benefited from the minutes that a loan spell in Wilmington with the Hammerheads would have provided; a player needs to play to develop, and as the USL partnership meant TFC did not have a reserve team this season, Morgan was unable to put in that desperately needed time, stagnating not only his development, but also denting his confidence.

Some, well this one pundit at least, have been calling for Morgan to see some time as a left-sided midfielder, using his attacking skills to the club's advantage, while limiting the defensive liability  - a weakness that Morgan must continue to work to improve. With Vanney set to demand much more from his wide midfielders, a position he focused on during his end of season presser, Morgan could be a solution as either an occasional starter or, in the least, a late impact sub when fresh legs and novel ideas are required.

Montreal made a very similar use of Maxim Tissot's skill set, advancing the left-back into that attacking wide role to great effect this season under Frank Klopas

As previously discussed here at Waking the Red, at least some of Morgan's defensive frailties were the result of being overexposed by a lack of defensive contribution from the rest of the left-side of the pitch, leaving him very isolated against some of the league's best attackers who maraud up the right-side of the opposition's formations. But if the nasty left-back is to return to being the recognized starter, his defensive contributions must solidify, while demonstrating that his attacking talents are worthy of a place in the first eleven.