TFC’s Morrow not bothered by U.S. national team snub

Justin-Morrow

Justin Morrow, right, in action for Toronto FC. (Jimmy Jeong/CP)

TORONTO – What does Justin Morrow have to do to earn a call-up by the United States national team?

It’s a question that often comes up among Toronto FC fans and the reporters who cover the team on a regular basis. TFC coach Greg Vanney was even asked about it at the post-match press conference following last Friday’s home win over the Chicago Fire.

Morrow, 29, is widely considered one of the best left fullbacks in Major League Soccer. Since coming to TFC in 2014, the Cleveland native has been one of the team’s most reliable defenders, and he played a key role in the Reds’ march to last season’s MLS Cup final.

He’s also developed into a genuine attacking threat since his arrival in Toronto. In his first four MLS seasons, all with the San Jose Earthquakes, the soft-spoken Morrow scored two goals. In his last three campaigns with TFC, Morrow has bagged nine goals, and has been one of the highest-scoring defenders in MLS.

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And yet, he’s been overlooked by newly installed U.S. team coach Bruce Arena, including for last month’s pair of crucial World Cup qualifying matches against Honduras and Panama. Jurgen Klinsmann, Arena’s predecessor, called up Morrow for one game, but he largely ignored the defender, and instead tried several converted midfielders in the spot.

Little wonder, then, the left fullback position has been a long-time problem area for the Americans – FourFourTwo.com correspondent Steve Davis once famously described the situation as “the United States’ ongoing problem child of a position.”

So what gives? Why can’t Morrow get a game with the Red, White and Blue?

Morrow can’t put his finger on it, mostly because he says neither Arena – who before starting his second stint as U.S. manager last November coached the LA Galaxy from 2008–16 – nor anybody else from the U.S. national team has reached out to him to say that they’ve even been monitoring him.

“Bruce has known me for a long time since I came into this league, since 2010. When I was with San Jose, I must have played against LA a bunch of times every year. So he saw me at my rawest form all the way until now. The only thing I can think is maybe he’s judging me on the past me that he knew and not my current form,” Morrow told Sportsnet in a one-on-one chat.

TFC coach Greg Vanney knows what Morrow is going through. A former MLS defender, Vanney felt there were times during his playing career that no matter what he did he couldn’t get recognized by the national side.

“Sometimes you feel like that as a player, that’s for sure. There was probably a stretch that I can point to that was similar for myself. But sometimes it’s not just about the player; sometimes it’s about the circumstances of the team,” Vanney said.

Whether as a left wingback in a five-man midfield, a left fullback in a four-man defence, or more recently playing as one of three central defenders in a three-man back line, Morrow has become one of the most versatile players on Toronto FC, winning praise for his consistency no matter where he plays.

“What Justin has done really well is that he’s proven over the last several months that his attacking prowess has grown; his aggressiveness in the attack has grown,” said Vanney, who earned 37 caps for the U.S. from 1996 through 2006.

“He’s got assists and goals, and he’s created [scoring] opportunities. But he’s also shown how good of a defender he can be, which is the other side of it. Sometimes when you play as a wingback, people notice more of the attacking things that you do…. He’s shown both sides of what he is capable of doing.”

Morrow insists he’s not bothered by the lack of attention being paid to him by the U.S. national team.

“I’m sure they’re looking at me. If I continue to do what I’ve been doing and [TFC] continues to do well, then I think at some point [a U.S. team call-up] will come,” Morrow offered.

It might happen sooner than Morrow thinks. Two notable reporters who cover the U.S. national team told Sportsnet that they expect the TFC defender to be included in Arena’s roster for this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.

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It’s worth nothing that Morrow has, in fact, played for the U.S. He earned his lone cap on Jan. 29, 2013, in a friendly against Canada in Houston. He was also called into the squad by Klinsmann for a pair of World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico two months later, but he was an unused substitute in both games.

The game against Canada saw Morrow square off against forward and future TFC teammate Tosaint Ricketts in a one-on-one battle.

“He was a winger on my side and I played left back that day. It was a tough battle. It was a tight, defensive battle…. I think it was probably a stalemate between Tos and I. The game ended in a 0–0 draw, so maybe I had the edge,” Morrow quipped.

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