But while the Italian magician grabs the headlines, soccer fans north of the border, specifically those on the shores of Lake Ontario, are showing an equal degree of appreciation for a member of the Reds’ background cast.
Left-back Justin Morrow has blossomed into one of Major League Soccer‘s elite defenders, leading to calls for him to add to his solitary cap for the U.S. national team. However, with the United States still recovering from a shocking start to the final round of 2018 CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, there’s no sign the 29-year-old will be suiting up in stars and stripes anytime soon.
Realistically there’s not much more Morrow can do to state his case to U.S. coach Bruce Arena. The Columbus native is a model of consistency and a key piece in Toronto’s transformation into championship contenders. Of 118 regular & postseason MLS games since the start of the 2014 season, Morrow has played in 109.
Solid on the defensive end since moving from San Jose Earthquakes in 2014, he has steadily improved the attacking side of his game, bursting out with five goals and four assists in TFC’s 2016 run to the MLS Cup final. Only Giovinco and compatriot Jozy Altidore found the net more than Morrow last season, and he already has two in eight appearances this campaign. Credit is also merited for starting this season so strong after missing the crucial penalty in a heartbreaking Cup final shootout.
Ironically, Morrow’s one and only cap came against Canada in January 2013. Two months later he sat on the bench for two 2014 World Cup qualifiers and there the pause button on his international career was pushed.
Standing between Morrow and a recall is Jorge Villafaña, currently playing for Santos Laguna in Liga MX. The 27-year-old was a mainstay in the Portland Timbers 2015 MLS Cup winning side and earned the starting berth at left-back for March’s qualifiers against Honduras and Panama, which saw the U.S. pick up a much-needed four points in Arena’s first two games back at the helm.
Before a trophy-laden spell with the L.A. Galaxy, Arena coached the national team between 1998-2006. Having taken over a sinking ship from Jurgen Klinsmann, he was likely to make some changes but TFC head coach Greg Vanney, who played under Arena at the Galaxy and on the national team, suggests there’s an understandable conservative approach at play.
“I think you tend to lean towards guys you know a lot before you end up bringing in someone you don’t quite know how they’re going to handle the situation,” said Vanney after Toronto’s recent 3-1 victory over the Chicago Fire. “That would be the only thing I could offer up as a thought process.”
With 124 caps of experience, DaMarcus Beasley continues to provide a go-to back up option and Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron can switch from right-back when needed. Morrow says he hasn’t received a call from anyone in the U.S. setup but given Villafaña is equally versatile on the left-wing — in a flat four, five or midfield — and is two years Morrow’s junior, Arena’s playbook may be set for upcoming qualifiers in June against Trinidad and Tobago and a crucial showdown in Mexico City.
If Morrow is ever to get another chance to wear red, white and blue, it might just be in lower profile, lower stake Gold Cup qualifiers this July, particularly in matchups against Martinique and Nicaragua.
It would be wrong to call Morrow unsung, for he received due praise from those who watch him on a regular basis, but he may just have to settle with being the best of the rest.
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