Like the MLS club, Morgan has gone through up and downs, and he’s had to consistently overcome adversity and setbacks since debuting for the Reds as a teenager in 2010.
A native of Toronto, Morgan is TFC’s longest-serving player. But whereas the left fullback was a guaranteed starter early on his career, he’s found playing opportunities fewer and far between over the last few years as the Reds have brought in players the calibre of Justin Morrow. As he’s fallen down the depth chart, Morgan has had to patiently bide his time. Morgan, 27, is experiencing a bit of a renaissance at the moment, though.
Due to Toronto’s injury concerns through the first two months of the MLS season, Morgan has been given a chance to remind everybody what he can do. He’s played in four of the Reds’ first six games of the regular season (three as a starter), and prominently featured in Toronto’s run to the CONCACAF Champions League final. He also scored a rare goal, finding the back of the net in TFC’s 3-1 win over Club America in the first leg of the semifinals.
Coach Greg Vanney has heaped praise upon Morgan for his solid form early on in the campaign, noting that he’s playing with more maturity and confidence. TFC’s coach also believes Morgan has been more consistent. Three years ago, it would take Morgan a few games to find his rhythm, but Vanney argues the Canadian is now playing with consistency from game to game. Morgan will likely continue to get his chance to shine, including in Friday’s home game against the Philadelphia Union.
“He’s matured in terms of his confidence. He’s a guy who’s shown up to training every day for the last three years and just gets his work done. You don’t see these emotional swings from Ash, which leads to consistency. That’s part of the maturity,” Vanney said.
“It’s nice he got the opportunity, and stepped in, he quickly found his form and rhythm. That to me is a sign of a maturing player for sure, and a player who is settled and comfortable in his skin.”
With Toronto dealing with a rash of injuries, Vanney has moved captain Michael Bradley from central midfield to the middle of the defence for the last two matches. Bradley has been impressed with what he’s seen from the Canadian through the first two months of the season.
“I’ve always had a big appreciation for Ash and what he’s all about. But in the last few games playing next to him in the back has given me, in a lot of ways, a whole other appreciation just in terms of how alert he is, and how tuned in he is. You look across the line in certain moments and you want to make sure he’s with you. When you talk about playing with good players, he’s one of them,” Bradley enthused.
He later added: “Ash is such a good guy, such a good teammate. … For all of us, we’re excited to see him get an extended opportunity in this last stretch and do so well.”
And what does the humble, soft-spoken and shy Morgan have to say? How does he account for his improved play? The Canadian explains he’s simply relishing the chance to play again.
“I haven’t played in a long time. I’m just enjoying my football right now. I’m happy to be on the pitch. I’m excited every time that I get to suit up and get involved. I’m getting older and I have a lot of games under my belt now,” Morgan offered.
Injuries, injuries, injuries
Toronto is going to be minus several key starters for Friday’s tilt against Philadelphia
Defender Chris Mavinga (lower body) and fullback Justin Morrow (calf) have missed a slew of games, both in MLS (they’ve played one game each) and CONACAF Champions League, since picking up injuries in the second leg of TFC’s Champions League quarterfinal against Mexican side Tigres on March 7.
Vanney confirmed Morrow and Mavinga won’t feature in Friday’s match, and that both are hopefully a week away from returning to action.
The Reds are already without defenders Drew Moor (quad tear) and Nick Hagglund (hamstring) due to long-term injuries. Defender Eriq Zavaleta, who is dealing with a minor quad muscle issue, is a week or two away from coming back. Also, forward Jozy Altidore has a mild hamstring strain, and is expected to be out for two weeks.
For the last two games, Vanney has used Bradley and right fullback Gregory van der Wiel in the middle of defence. Vanney has been impressed with how Bradley has adopted to his new position, so look for TFC’s coach to keep going with the Bradley-van der Wiel duo in central defence for the foreseeable future.
No transfer moves or trades
The league’s primary transfer window closed on Tuesday night, which means MLS teams can’t make trades for players or transfer moves until the window re-opens on July 10.
Tuesday’s deadline passed without the Reds making any moves, even in light of TFC dealing with this injury crisis.
“There was nothing specific to say we were trying to add anyone because of our injury situation. We feel like it was a unique situation; guys are close to [coming] back. In terms of the salary cap and budget, we don’t want to take anyone on just for the sake of adding them for a very short term,” Vanney explained.