The last two seasons Toronto FC have leaked goals. They have allowed 1.64 goals per game in that time, with 54 and 58 goals against respectively in the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Even this season, when this offence was among the best in the league, they couldn't sweep that fact under the rug.
That's why re-signing Justin Morrow was considered to be the top offseason priority by Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko: he's been the only working piece in a broken Toronto backline.
Toronto FC made that a reality today, showing their confidence in the 28-year-old Morrow by giving him a multi-year deal. As per usual, terms of the announcement, either how many years or how much money per year, were not released by the club.
He's more than just a working backline piece, however, he's the exact defender that Toronto FC should be shaping their backline around as they attempt to rebuild it this offseason.
There are several reasons why, but the most important is Morrow's flexibility. He was Toronto FC's best defender these past two seasons playing left-back, but he was also the best right back this season. He even played centreback for a couple of games, and was not bad in the middle.
In a league where building a deep defensive unit at all positions is incredibly difficult, having defenders who can play multiple positions well is crucial. Toronto FC don't have many of these players, something that was well established this season.
They tried Warren Creavalle, Nick Hagglund, Marky Delgado and Jackson at the right back position. Some worked for a short period of time, others were failures right from the start.The only Toronto backline that consistently looked decent saw Justin Morrow play right-back and Ashtone Morgan play left-back.
One injury to Mark Bloom completely derailed their backline for a season, and that cannot be true of a team that fancies itself one of the best of the league.
Another reason Morrow is the player Toronto FC should model their backline around is the MLS experience that he has: a team leading 6 seasons. There are evidently players who come from Europe who have been successful in Major League Soccer backlines, see league defender of the year Laurent Ciman, but they have rarely played for Toronto FC.
Toronto FC tried to plug the whole in their backline this offseason by bringing in highly paid European centreback options Damien Perquis and Ahmed Kantari. In the end it was MLS-experienced Josh Williams who ended up being the club's most consistent centreback.
Looking at the two best defences in MLS this year, the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps, the importance of MLS experience is evident. The "top six" defenders based on games played had an average of 5 seasons of MLS experience for Seattle Sounders, and 4 seasons of experience for Vancouver Whitecaps going into this year.
Rounding up to full seasons, Toronto FC's top six only had an average of 2 years of MLS experience. Several, including Perquis, Kantari, Delgado and Clement Simonen had no previous experience. Getting more league experience, therefore, is crucial this offseason to Toronto.
Finally, Morrow's age is an incredibly important as well. At 28, Morrow is in the prime of his career and realistically Toronto could get anywhere from 3-5 good years out of him. This has rarely been the case with Toronto, who have in the past favoured veteran defenders over the age of 30 who have the best years of their career behind them.
All of this combines to make Morrow an ideal MLS defender, and why re-signing him was crucial to Toronto FC's offseason. As such he needs to be the exemplar going forward, as the team tries to right their defensive wrongs of the past.