TORONTO, Canada—Toronto FC made it official on Tuesday, announcing the return of defenders Eriq Zavaleta and Justin Morrow.
“Justin has been a fixture with TFC and it’s great to have him signed,” said Toronto FC general manager Ali Curtis in a statement. “His versatility on the field, veteran presence in the locker room and overall leadership on and off the field have been critical for the club for a long time and we’re thrilled that will continue.”
An 11-year MLS veteran, Morrow, 33, has spent the last seven seasons in Toronto since being acquired via trade from the San Jose Earthquakes. He ranks second on the club’s all-time appearances list with 227 in all competitions, behind only Jonathan Osorio’s 263. In 2020, he also served as the Executive Director of Black Players for Change, playing a crucial role throughout MLS in an effort to combat racial injustice.
The left-back entered free agency this offseason, but told Waking the Red in December that he wanted to finish his career in Toronto.
“My expectation—my plan—is to be here with Toronto FC,” said Morrow at the time. “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.”
He is currently recovering from a calf injury according to Steve Buffery, and will be sidelined to start the 2021 season. In the meantime, expect to potentially get an early look at first-round pick Matt Di Rosa down the left flank, as well as either one of Richie Laryea or Auro Jr.
Morrow’s contract will run through the 2021 season, according to the club’s press release.
Zavaleta, meanwhile, spent the past six seasons in Toronto since being acquired from the Seattle Sounders in 2015. The Westfield, Indiana native ranks eighth all-time for Toronto FC in appearances made for the club, playing in 136 games in all competitions. He played a key role in the treble-winning 2017 season, starting 27 of 29 matches, including three postseason games.
Since then, the 28-year-old centreback’s play has declined drastically, highlighted by his sporadic use in 2020—appearing in five games and starting just three matches.
“Eriq is another veteran who’s given a lot to the club,” said Curtis in a statement. “This is a big year for Eriq. He comes to the training ground every day ready to work and is a great role model as an all-around professional for our young players.”
With the departure of Laurent Ciman, Curtis and Toronto FC are hoping Zavaleta can re-find his 2017 form. He showed glimpses of it towards the end of the year, managing to step up and play a role when called upon, especially when used alongside Chris Mavinga.
In 2019, he made almost $300,000 USD in guaranteed compensation according to the MLSPA. He is signed through the 2021 season with an option for 2022.
With Morrow and Zavaleta’s return, Ciman, Pablo Piatti, and Tony Gallacher are now the only players from last year’s roster not expected to return in 2021. Homegrown signing Jordan Perruzza remains the only addition ... so far.