Toronto FC fullback Ashtone Morgan savours rare outing in Homegrown game
Sunday, Aug 03, 2014 08:30 am
TORONTO - Playing in the Chipotle MLS Homegrown Game represents a rare step into the spotlight this season for Toronto FC fullback Ashtone Morgan.
With left back ceded to off-season acquisition Justin Morrow, Morgan has seen one minute of league action in 2014.
But the 23-year-old Canadian international will get his due in Monday's showcase match for young talent, part of the festivities ahead of the 2014 AT&T MLS All-Star Game.
Morgan is looking forward at the chance to showcase his skills Monday. In the bigger picture, he is trying to make the best of his situation in Toronto.
"Definitely there's light at the end of the tunnel," he said. "I'm just trying to keep as professional as I can with the whole situation, just going in every day, working hard, and trying to show the coaches and the staff and everybody here, all my teammates, (that) when I'm called upon, I'll be ready to play."
"Obviously everybody wants to play," he added. "It's been a tough season so far but I'm here. I'm patiently waiting, I'm just working hard."
It's an attitude that will be applauded by Toronto manager Ryan Nelsen, no fan of players making waves.
"It's hard to get into our team," Nelsen said with a steely tone in his voice after the recent home loss to Sporting Kansas City when asked about the status of another player doing more watching than playing.
Nelsen is of the opinion that players — with their performance — pick the team rather than coaches. But injuries can also open the door to those that are ready.
"It's a tough team to get into ... They just have to keep going, keep working hard," Nelsen said of those waiting in the wings."
So Morgan, whose salary is listed at US$92,000 this season, is biding his time.
Morgan will be joined Monday by good friend and Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Russell Teibert and 18 other top homegrown players in the game against the Portland Timbers under-23 team.
Morgan grew up with Teibert and spent time with him in the Toronto FC academy before Teibert headed west for the Whitecaps residency program.
"I talk to him all the time," said Morgan.
Montreal defenders Karl Ouimette and Wandrille Lefevre were named to the team but had to withdraw because of the impact's CONCACAF Champions League game Tuesday. Seattle Sounders defender DeAndre Yedlin pulled out after being named to the all-star team.
All MLS clubs were asked to nominate eligible players for the game. Based on availability, injuries and other criteria, the final 20 were selected in consultation with MLS director of player programs who will coach the team.
"It feels great to be selected for it," said Morgan.
Under the league's homegrown policy, clubs can sign a player to his first pro contract without subjecting him to the MLS SuperDraft if the player has trained for at least one year in the club’s youth development program and has trained 80 days with the academy during that year.
With 67 league appearances, including 56 starts, Morgan is the most experienced member of the Homegrown roster. But while seeing action in the Amway Canadian Championship and a recent friendly against England's Tottenham, Morgan has not played in a league game since coming on for Brazilian Jackson in the 93rd minute of the season opener 4 1/2 months ago in Seattle.
This despite making 20 starts in 2013 and 27 in 2012.
The steady presence of Morrow has been the major factor. The former Sam Jose Earthquake player has started 19 of 20 games this season, coming on as a substitute in the other after attending a family funeral.
Morgan was thrown onto centre stage early in his career. A speedster with the ability to deliver an excellent cross, he proved to be an offensive asset. But defensively, often not getting much help from his teammates, he could be left at sea.
Canadian national team coach Benito Floro has been keeping in touch with Morgan, providing him with more reason for optimism.
He has two more years on his contract.
Others on the Homegrown team roster include 17-year-old defender Erik Palmer-Brown, the youngest signing in Sporting Kansas City history and the only player born in 1997 currently on a MLS team roster, and 22-year-old Chicago Fire midfielder Harry Shipp, named MLS Player of the Week after scoring a hat trick against New York in Week 10.
Philadelphia Union midfielder Zach Pfeffer, 19, was the fourth-youngest player to sign an MLS contract at the age of 15.
Tickets for Monday night's contest at Providence Park, home of the Timbers, were free.
2014 Chipotle MLS Homegrown Roster
Goalkeepers: Jon Kempin (Sporting Kansas City), Matt Lampson (Columbus Crew)
Defenders: Connor Lade (New York Red Bulls), Ashtone Morgan (Toronto FC), Shane O'Neill (Colorado Rapids), Erik Palmer-Brown (Sporting Kansas City), Carlos Salcedo (Real Salt Lake)
Midfielders: Steven Evans (Portland Timbers), Danny Garcia (FC Dallas), Zach Pfeffer (Philadelphia Union), Chris Ritter (Chicago Fire), Harry Shipp (Chicago Fire), Russell Teibert (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew)
Forwards: Caleb Calvert (Chivas USA), Bradford Jamieson IV (LA Galaxy), Sean Okoli (Seattle Sounders FC), Dillon Serna (Colorado Rapids), Tommy Thompson (San Jose Earthquakes), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)