It’s a bittersweet moment for me. I knew you were not going to play forever, yet it’s still hard for me to see you retire. I’ve been watching you from the South End since you were traded to Toronto FC in 2013. You arrived just before the “Bloody Big Deal” in Toronto and, to be honest, your arrival was somewhat overshadowed by that whirlwind of signings. To say that it was a tumultuous time in TFC land would be a bit of an understatement – and that wasn’t even on the pitch! We saw a new club president (Tim Leiweke, a new GM (Tim Bezbatchenko) a new coach (Ryan Nelson), and then another new coach (Greg Vanney). So, on behalf of my fellow TFC supporters, I apologize for our lack of enthusiasm at the outset of your time with the club.
But that was before I got to see you play. To be honest, I really didn’t know too much about you when you were traded to Toronto. San Jose plays in the Western Conference, and we don’t get to see many games from there in Canada. You made an instant impact on our team and quickly became endeared to the fan base. You play with a style that made you one of the best left backs in the league – as a competent defender and flying down the left wing to create chances in the offensive end. (Full disclosure here, Justin – I used to play left back. By the time you came to TFC, I was eyeing a spot on the Over-35 team, so my dreams of professional glory were behind me). You had an instant presence on the pitch. There’s a reason why a lot of the play went through you – your quiet confidence made it easy for your teammates, and many a goal started with your hard work. Also, you were quick to get back on defense, which made everyone’s life easier. It’s reassuring as a fan to know that you’re playing regularly at the back.
I could go through all of the great moments that you’ve had with TFC, but there are too many to mention. I think everyone would agree that your legacy is firmly cemented as a club legend. I can’t resist though – a hat trick for a defender? INSANE!
While you’ve had a legendary career on the field, now you can concentrate on your important work with Black Players for Change. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m grateful to see the support you and your fellow members have received so far. I remember the most poignant moment that I think I’ve ever seen in sports was when you and fellow members took the field in a joint protest before the opening match of the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando.
I know your work is just starting, and I am excited to see what is in store for you in the future. You’ve inspired me and so many others to do better as an ally. Toronto is a great place to live, but we have to do better to support people who are marginalized in society. Your voice is so important to be heard, and I’ll always take time to listen. Most importantly, you’ve shown what being a role model truly means to all of us. You’ve certainly shown how a professional athlete should be, especially to your younger teammates on TFC. Also, you’ve had an immense impact on the whole league, as you’re the leader we need.
So, on Sunday, I can point to you on the pitch and say to my son, “That’s Justin Morrow. He’s one of the best – on and off the field.”