Starting all over again is no big thing for Justin Morrow—he’s done it before.
A second-round pick (28th overall) in the 2010 Major League Soccer SuperDraft, Morrow made his league debut for the San Jose Earthquakes in May of that same year and looked to be set for a successful MLS career. But the Earthquakes thought he still had some developing to do, so they sent him out on loan to FC Tampa Bay of the second-tier USSF Division 2, where he stayed for the remainder of the year.
Morrow returned to San Jose at the start of 2011 only to be sent down to Tampa Bay again. His second stint in Florida was short-lived, however, and he was quickly recalled by San Jose, where he enjoyed a breakout 2012 campaign as the club’s starting left fullback and helped the Earthquakes finish in first place during the regular season.
A solid 2013 campaign for the Earthquakes followed before being traded to Toronto FC just before Christmas.
At 26 years old, the Cleveland native has already experienced plenty of highs and lows in his young career. He didn’t sulk or complain when the Earthquakes sent him on loan. In fact, he welcomed the move, and in looking back on it now he credits his time in Tampa with helping him develop his game.
“I was happy about it. It showed me that San Jose cared about me and my growth as a player, instead of keeping me around but not playing me,” Morrow told Sportsnet. “In your rookie year you look to do what you can to get onto the field. It was great to get some experience and made me realize where I was in terms of my own development.”
Maybe the most valuable thing he received in Tampa Bay was something he couldn't get as a young player with the big club—stability.
“When you’re a rookie and you’re not playing day to day and you’re in and out of the first team, you don’t know what to think. Tampa gave me the experience to where I could say to myself ‘I can handle this, I’m doing fine.’ You don’t get down on yourself for every mistake,” Morrow said.
Today, Morrow speaks with a great deal of poise and confidence, and the athletic left back, who can also play in the middle of the defence, is positive he can help TFC both in the defensive end and in the final third of the pitch.
“I’m a strong defender and I get up the field to attack. I love to attack. I want to bring a winning presence to the club, a winning mentality. Make the team a cohesive unit,” Morrow stated.
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As for the trade back in December, Morrow said it came together fairly quickly.
“I spoke to some players who were at San Jose who played for Toronto before and they told me good things about the city and the team. I was really excited about it, I’m here now and really looking forward to it,” Morrow said.
Morrow also reached out to TFC forward Bright Dike, a former teammate at Notre Dame.
“Anytime you’ve been in one place for four years, you build connections and make friends. That was tough. But a footballer’s career takes him many different places so moving on was inevitable,” Morrow offered.
TFC had yet to sign Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley at the time of the trade as they were still in full rebuild mode. The idea of joining a team coming off seven losing seasons didn’t frighten him, though.
“Toronto has always been a team that’s full of potential. Any time you can be part of an organization that wants to win and has great fan support, that’s a good thing,” Morrow said.
He also believes his move to Toronto can help him in his fight for a spot on the U.S. national team. Morrow made his debut for the American squad last January when he started in a 0-0 friendly against Canada in Dallas and also got called up for a pair of World Cup friendlies. He’s still very much on the periphery of the team, but it's not like he's going to let that stop him.
“Playing for the national team is the highest level you can achieve as a footballer," Morrow said. "I learned so many things from so many different people and it made me more hungry to stay at that level and bring those qualities to TFC, and strive for more national-team opportunities."