Defenders Justin Morrow, Eriq Zavaleta sign new deals with Toronto FC

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TORONTO — Veteran fullback Justin Morrow and centre back Eriq Zavaleta have re-signed with Toronto FC.

The signings do not come as a surprise, given both players have been at Toronto's training camp, which opened last week. But they needed new deals after their contracts expired at the end of last season.

In keeping the two defenders in the fold, TFC retains experience and continuity. The 33-year-old Morrow is entering his eighth season with the club while the 28-year-old Zavaleta is starting his seventh.

Morrow has made 229 appearances for Toronto in all competitions, second only to midfielder Jonathan Osorio (263). Captain Michael Bradley is third (214) on the list.

Morrow, a U.S. international who doubles as executive director of Black Players for Change, is respected on and off the field. His new deal covers the 2021 season.

"Justin has been a fixture with TFC and it’s great to have him signed," Toronto GM Ali Curtis said in a statement. "His versatility on the field, veteran presence in the locker-room and overall leadership on and off the field have been critical for the club for a long time and we’re thrilled that will continue."

Zavaleta adds depth to a defence that lost veteran backup Laurent Ciman since last season.

The Indiana native has made 136 appearances in all competitions for TFC. His deal is for one year with an option for the 2022 season.

He has served as a backup for first-choice centre backs Omar Gonzalez and Chris Mavinga in recent years.

“Eriq is another veteran who’s given a lot to the club,” said Curtis. “This is a big year for Eriq. He comes to the training ground every day ready to work and is a great role model as an all-around professional for our young players.”

Zavaleta, originally acquired in a trade with the Seattle Sounders in January 2015, is one of 12 players to have made 100 appearances or more for TFC and currently ranks eighth all-time in club history in appearances.

He saw action in five regular-season games in 2020, including three starts.

Morrow, joined Toronto in 2014 after four seasons with the San Jose Earthquakes. He was an MLS all-star in 2012 with the Quakes and was named to the MLS Best XI in 2017 when Toronto won the MLS Cup, MLS Supporters’ Shield and Canadian Championship.

Morrow, who has 17 career goals and 19 assists for Toronto, made US$330,000 in 2019, the last year the MLS Players Association released salary figures for. That ranked 11th among TFC players.

When healthy, Morrow has been a fixture at left fullback for Toronto with Richie Laryea and Brazil's Auro normally splitting right back duties.

Morrow had made it clear he wanted to return to Toronto.

"This organization, this city has given me so much as a professional athlete and as a man," he said during the off-season. "And I just want to have a chance to win more trophies here and play in front of our fans again. That is something that I'm desperate for and I know the rest of our team is desperate for."

Morrow saw action in 15 of Toronto's 23 regular-season games in 2020 with 11 starts. But he missed most of the stretch drive due to injury.

The team finished out the 2020 season playing out of East Hartford, Conn., due to pandemic-related travel restrictions. The club is looking at playing home games in Florida to start the 2021 season, which kicks off April 17.

Morrow played collegiate soccer at Notre Dame, appearing in 89 matches over four seasons with the Fighting Irish. San Jose selected him in the second round (28th overall) of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft.

Zavaleta is a former U.S., youth international who began his MLS career with Seattle and Chivas USA after a collegiate career as a forward at Indiana University.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2021

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press