TORONTO – He may not be a household name yet, but 21-year-old left back Ashtone Morgan is certainly making waves for Toronto FC this season.
He has started 20 of the Reds’ 22 league games and his strong rushes up the left side of the pitch and pinpoint crosses are fast becoming his trademark. The Toronto FC Academy graduate, who counts Canada's largest city as his hometown, has four assists in MLS play this season to show for those skills.
“There’s always room for improvement, but [crossing is] one of my stronger traits,” Morgan told MLSsoccer.com after training on Wednesday. “I try to get up the field and put crosses in for Ryan [Johnson], for Eric [Hassli] and Luis [Silva]. I love getting up and whipping them in. I enjoy it a lot.”
WATCH: Morgan's low cross sets up Silva
These forays into the offensive area have the approval of head coach Paul Mariner.
“It’s something we want to develop as a team,” Mariner said. “When you’ve got tremendous athletes in Jeremy [Hall] and Doneil [Henry] and Ash, it’s important for them to enjoy the other aspect to the game. They’re learning their trade as defenders but going forward for defenders is a wonderful release of pressure, so it’s something we encourage. They can get up and down, they’ve got great engines and the crosses coming in have been great.”
The approach appears to lend itself perfectly to the old saying that a good offense is the best defense, but Mariner doesn’t take it quite that far with this team.
“It’s always a good adage, but again, you have to have the right players in the team to pull that off,” he said. “We don’t want to concede goals, we don’t want to be flying forward willy nilly, so defense is absolutely key. But [going forward] is something we do encourage.”
Morgan also gets a high rating from Mariner for his defensive work as well.
"Very good, terrific,” he said. “I think he’s been on top of his game. He’s had different partners in front of him and he’s coped so, so well. I think he has been one of our most consistent players this season.”
Trio on trial, Hall out for two weeks
Left back Paul Robinson, 33, who has played in England for such teams as Watford, West Bromwich and Bolton, and center back Diego Alberto Cervantes Chávez, 27, from Mexico are on trial with TFC. Mariner describes Robinson as a “warrior” but said any possible deals are a long way off. Also on trial is striker Antwan Russell, a 25-year old with two caps for Bermuda.
Mariner also said defender Jeremy Hall is expected to be out two weeks with an ankle injury picked up in the 2-1 loss to Chicago last Saturday.