TORONTO — A rare goal by Ashtone Morgan helped Toronto FC secure the win over the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday night.
While scoring is not Morgan’s forte, Toronto’s longest-serving player still brings plenty to the table without much fanfare. Morgan, now understudy to all-star left fullback Justin Morrow, just quietly goes about his business.
"Ash is a guy you can always count on. He’s always ready, 100 per cent professional, a team player," said star striker Jozy Altidore, who helped set up Morgan’s insurance goal in the 3-1 win over the Red Bulls. "It’s a pleasure to have guys like that, that when their name’s called, regardless of what’s going on, come in and put in a shift. And you need those guys throughout a season."
On Wednesday, Morgan made just his fifth league appearance of the year when he replaced the injured Alejandro Pozuelo in the 63rd minute with the Red Bulls looking to pull even. Nine minutes later he helped put the game away.
The 28-year-old local boy headed towards the Red Bulls penalty box with Morrow steaming down the flank to his left. Morgan, however, slotted it inside to Altidore and kept running into the box.
Altidore flicked it towards him and then the New York defence unravelled.
Aaron Long fell down and Michael Murillo deferred to goalkeeper Luis Robles who rushed out to get the ball. He never got to it.
The ball got caught in Lawrence’s feet and the defender fell over as Morgan muscled his way in. With the ball loose, Morgan pivoted at the edge of the six-yard box and slotted it into the empty goal past a diving Robles.
"Ash just stuck with it and dug it out and put it in the back of the net," said Toronto coach Greg Vanney.
"They gave me a gift and I took it," said Morgan.
Did he have a goal celebration in his back pocket, he was asked?
"No. I don’t really celebrate. I just take it how it comes and move on," he replied.
The fullback joined the Toronto academy in its first season in 2008 at the age of 16. He made his pro debut in 2010 against Arabe Unido in the CONCACAF Champions League. Signed as a homegrown player, his first league appearance was as a substitute against Portland in March 2011 when he made nine starts.
He started 27 games in 2012, when he recorded five of his 11 career assists with Dutch striker Danny Koevermans often the beneficiary. He made 20 starts in 2013 before giving way to Morrow, acquired in a trade with San Jose in December 2013.
He soon became known for lung-busting runs down the left flank and his ability to deliver a cross. There were also a few defensive miscues in the beginning.
Morgan had just two starts in 2014 — not appearing in a league game for 4 1/2 months and playing 168 just minutes on the season — but saw more playing time with 17 starts in 2015 when Morrow was shifted to right back due to injuries.
In the four seasons since, Morgan has made zero, three, 11 and three starts. While consigned to reserve status, he just gets on with the job without a complaint.
In all, Morgan has made 161 appearances for the club with three goals.
His first league goal was memorable — a left-footed volley to open the scoring in a 2-2 draw with New York City FC in July 2017.
His other Toronto goal came in the CONCACAF Champions League in April 2018, sweeping in a cross from Brazil’s Auro to seal a 3-1 victory going into the return leg of the semifinal against Club America.
"It means everything," he said after that win at BMO Field. "It’s my club, my city. I’m going to do what I need to do for the team and whenever my number gets called, I’m ready to go."
He still plays his part when his number isn’t called. This season that has included mentoring 24-year-old Richie Laryea as he learns the fullback position.
"I’m with Richie every day," said Morgan. "Seeing him grow in that position is just exciting. It gets me excited to come to training and play beside him."
Morgan, named Canada’s U-20 Player of the Year in 2011, has won 18 caps for Canada.
With a salary of US$133,500, according to the MLS Players Association, Morgan ranks 18th on the Toronto payroll.
A bargain at the price. Especially when Morgan can boast that his team has never lost when he scores.
By: Neil Davidson