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Why bringing back Justin Morrow was a good move for Toronto FC ahead of 2020

The veteran’s contract was picked up by TFC for the 2020 season, and it’s right on queue.

Toronto FC defender Justin Morrow controls the ball in the 2019 MLS Cup Final in Seattle. The veteran’s contract option was picked up for 2020.
(Tagwa Moyo/Waking the Red)

A few weeks have passed, but it is still difficult to digest a topsy-turvy MLS Cup final which saw Toronto FC fall to the Seattle Sounders 3-1.

Nonetheless, one game won’t cancel out what has been an impressive season by the Reds — one that saw them bounce back from the 2018 fracas. 2019 went a long way to restoring TFC’s competitiveness among the MLS elite.

With the fast-paced world of MLS already shifting its attentions to the 2020 schedule, TFC are already moving pieces in a bid to build a strong squad ahead of next year.

One of the moves the club made was picking up the contract option of veteran left back Justin Morrow, alongside eight other players: Auro Jr., Julian Dunn, Richie Laryea, Chris Mavinga, Marky Delgado, Liam Fraser, Tsubasa Endoh and Patrick Mullins.

Such decisions mean that the TFC Front Office still values MLS-experienced players.

Making the case for a veteran player like Morrow is not a complicated discourse. The 32-year-old has been one of the finest TFC players in recent years, contributing to the club’s run towards three MLS Cup Finals in four years.

However, given the nature of MLS transfers and his contract (Morrow made in $330,000 USD in guaranteed compensation last season), the US international was on the brink of leaving the club just days after the defeat to Seattle. In fact, Morrow was made available in the 2019 Expansion Draft but (thankfully) he was overlooked.

With Morrow voicing his ambition of representing TFC again during the end-of-season press conference, the side from the 6ix decided to pick up his contract option for 2020.

The left-footed player made 28 MLS appearances in 2019 and was always helpful to his team’s cause. He missed five games due to hip injury in the season run-in, though once back on the field, he was immediately deployed in the 2-2 draw with the Chicago Fire and the 1-0 victory over the Columbus Crew.

In his 36 appearances in all competitions during the 2019 calendar year, Morrow played 18 times as left-back, while he was tasked as advanced midfielder for the balance — always on the left flank.

His experience and versatility are features that make Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney a pleased man, as he can bank on insurance for security at both ends of the field from his MLS veteran. In addition, tactically, Morrow can slide into different shapes; his versatility enables him to feature in a 4-3-3 or 3-5-2 system. Also, his crossing ability and link-up play in the attacking third make him a valuable asset to the team.

With his offensive contribution improving from year to year, and given his knowledge and tactical astuteness, Morrow can still be the potential starting left-back for the club in 2020 despite possibly being past his prime.

Man of the People

J-Mo is just 58 games away from making his 300th MLS appearance. This makes him one of the longest-serving players in the United States top-flight league. 187 of those games came with Toronto FC, so keeping him in the ranks could also be seen as a sign of acknowledgement to the service he provided to the club.

Despite not wearing the armband, he can be considered a silent leader, given his track record as a player, making of him a proper mentor to the younger faces in the locker room.

At the end of the day, this is a player who played in three MLS Cup Finals, won two Supporters’ Shields, three Canadian Championships, and played a part in TFC’s run towards the 2018 Concacaf Champions League. In addition, he was named twice to the MLS All-Star XI (2012 and 2017).

Throughout the years, he has forged a wonderful relationship with the supporters, who see in him as a true warrior and a great servant to the club.

Prior to the MLS Cup, Morrow underlined the winning mentality that reigns in the TFC environment.

“A certain ‘mentality remains’,” Morrow explained. “On the field and off the field, we have a pretty tight-knit group here; everybody gets along with each other. That goes a long way to determining results on the field.”

Morrow was a key member in helping this club adapt that mentality over the years. All in all, his playing ability, locker room presence, and desire to play in Toronto made the decision for the Toronto FC front office to pick up his 2020 contract option a no-brainer.

Role competition

Among the nine players that have seen their contract options picked up are defenders Auro and Richie Laryea — two players who can provide competition to Morrow unless there will be further additions from the transfer window.

With Morrow out for a stretch in late-August to early-September, Auro was given an opportunity to showcase his versatility on the left flank and played solid. With the Brazilian able to cover both flanks, Vanney could be thinking about giving Morrow plenty of rest to preserve his usage for bigger games.

On the other hand, Laryea has been a welcome surprise inside the TFC camp and has been one of the constant performers throughout the 2019 campaign.

The Canadian international boasts an impressive 1v1 prowess that has fit perfectly to the style of play TFC impose on the field.

The question would be whether Vanney sees Morrow as key starter or as a huge contributor in the big games. Either or, it’s a pleasant scenario to welcome back again a big servant to this club.