Toronto FC's Ashtone Morgan on up-and-down season: "I'm only 22 and I have time to get better"

TORONTO – For young players in MLS, it's usually all about paying your dues. Ashtone Morgan knows that only too well.

After finding himself on the bench for Toronto FC’s last two home matches, the 22-year-old TFC Academy graduate and Canadian national teamer was back in the starting XI for last weekend’s game at Philadelphia. However, he ended up being sent off late in that game for a second yellow card, one that Toronto head coach Ryan Nelsen highlighted after the match as a dubious decision by the referee that cost his side two points.

Nelsen also was adamant in defending the Canadian international after the match against Philadelphia. That certainly came as no surprise to Morgan, who sees Nelsen as a manager who supports his players first and foremost.

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“He is a real player’s coach,” Morgan told MLSsoccer.com. “He knows what we are going through on and off the pitch. He is also a good role model for myself and all the young guys on the team. If I have any questions, he is always here. He was a central defender and I’m on the backline. After every training session I leave the KIA training ground thinking that I actually learned something today. It is great for helping me to take my defensive game to another level.”

Since signing a professional contract with Toronto in March 2011, Morgan has played for three head coaches in Aron Winter, Paul Mariner and now Nelsen. All three had different tactical approaches and different player management styles. While he is now adjusting to the ways in which Nelsen wants to do things, Morgan is also quick to admit that he has benefited from playing for three head coaches over the short duration of his career as an MLS player.

“I’ve learned a lot from all of the coaches I have had," he said. "It might not always have been the biggest things, but I have learned something from every coach and that has helped me to be a better player."

Last season under both Winter and Mariner, Morgan was a key component of the Toronto attack with his darting runs up the flank and his ability to deliver quality crosses to big forwards such as Danny Koevermans and Ryan Johnson.

Six games into the 2013 MLS campaign, it’s clear that Nelsen prefers a very defensively pragmatic approach from his back four.

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According to Morgan, that approach suits him just fine, even if Toronto FC supporters aren’t seeing him at the opposite end of the pitch as much as they have in the past.

“First and foremost my job is to defend. I go into every game with that mindset,” Morgan said. “Now we have a lot of guys in our team with offensive abilities, which takes stress off players on the back line to come up and join the attack. At times I do have to remind myself that I am still 22 and that I have a lot of time to get better and achieve my goals and that it is still early in my career."

As for the consternation among some Toronto FC and Canadian national team fans surrounding the fact that the Toronto native – like all of the players on TFC – has not been an automatic starter under Nelsen, Morgan sees the increased depth, competition and talent on the Reds roster as something that is both good for the club as a whole and for him as an individual.

“Competition is a good thing," he said. "You can’t get complacent in the training ground and in games because you know that your job is always on the line."