TORONTO, Canada—Regardless of what transpires in free agency this offseason, Justin Morrow will forever be remembered as a Toronto FC legend, but for what it’s worth, there appears to be a good chance that we do see the beloved fullback return in 2021, and beyond.
A pending free agent, Morrow joined Waking the Red Weekly on Tuesday afternoon to discuss a variety of topics, ranging from his favourite and least favourite Toronto FC kits (spoiler: the answer may surprise you) to his involvement as the executive director for Black Players for Change, to Greg Vanney, and of course, we couldn’t let him go without touching on his ongoing contract negotiations with Toronto FC.
Morrow is out of contract with the club and is set to officially become a free agent on Dec. 16, making his eligible to sign with any other team for the first time in his 11-year career. However, when asked if that was something the 33 year old was looking forward to, the Ohio native instead expressed his desire to return to the place he now calls home.
“My expectation—my plan—is to be here with Toronto FC,” said Morrow. “I’ve expressed that to the club and they’ve expressed that as well. I want to finish off my career here playing in front of the fans that have given me so much and we’ve shared this beautiful thing together, and like I said, my mind is on keeping Toronto FC at the top of the league.”
"I want to finish out my career here playing in front of the fans that have given me so much. My mind is on keeping Toronto FC at the top of the league." @justmorrow on his desire to end his career at @TorontoFC #TFCLive pic.twitter.com/bwXXPbH62O— Footy Talks (@FootyTalksLive) December 15, 2020
Since being acquired via trade from San Jose in 2013—the day before his wedding, a great story he tells on the podcast—Morrow has gone on to make 227 appearances in all competitions for the Reds, good enough for second most all-time behind only Jonathan Osorio’s 263. He’s become synonymous with the left flank at BMO Field, and quite frankly, it’d be odd to see him wearing another MLS kit in 2021.
And clearly, it’s something he doesn’t plan on doing either.
On Dec. 2 at the club’s end-of-season media availability via zoom, I asked Toronto FC general manager Ali Curtis about Morrow, and at the time, Curtis was also open about the team’s desire to have their No. 2 return next season.
“Justin was a player on this team, and this year he’s become a friend,” said Curtis. “I’ve had conversations with Justin and his representation over the last months, and hopefully, we’d like for Justin to come back, but we also recognize that he’s earned the right to be a free agent.
“But he’s a good soccer player,” Curtis continued. “Of course he showed true leadership off the field and really has done fantastic things for our league, as well as Black Players for Change, but he’s got a lot of juice in him as a soccer player. He’s a good soccer player that can help us. We’d like to find a way to bring him back and we’ll have those conversations...”
So, with Morrow expressing his interest to return, and the club expressing their interest to have him return, what’s the hold up?
Well, it appears that Toronto FC don’t have too much wiggle room on their salary budget for the upcoming season, and despite the glaring need for a regular left-back, Morrow made $330,000 in guaranteed salary according to the MLSPA in 2019—and was likely on pace to make more in 2020 before the pandemic. Most of, if not all of that money was likely being charged directly to the team’s salary cap.
Is it possible that the Reds simply can’t afford Morrow in 2021 and a mutual interest just isn’t enough to get this done? Well, we don’t have that definite answer (due to the lack of transparency in MLS) but as Curtis mentioned two weeks ago: “It’s not in our complete control. But we’ll talk to Justin and go from there.”
My best bet? The team will wait for its dominoes to fall in place, and Morrow and TFC eventually find a way to work this out and we see him back in a Reds kit next season. But of course, it’s 2020, and you simply never know.