A year later, Justin Morrow returns to MLS Cup with chance at redemption

MLS Cup - 2017 - Justin Morrow

TORONTO – Last December, no Toronto FC player carried the shootout loss in the 2016 MLS Cup Final as heavily as Justin Morrow.

Michael Bradley also failed to convert his spot kick in the six-round shootout. but it was Morrow's effort, caroming off the underside of the crossbar, that proved Toronto's last, as Roman Torres powered his past Clint Irwin to be the hero, as the Seattle Sounders took home the MLS Cup.

Days later, at the season ending media day, Morrow still looked haunted by the inch.

“It's hard to put into words, all the feelings, the emotions,” said Morrow on Dec. 13. “A lot of pain... it's going to hurt for a while. It's something I will move on from. I won't be the first one to miss a penalty, won't be the last.”

Said coach Greg Vanney at the time: “I owe Justin more. I didn't realize he was carrying it.”

The two spoke shortly thereafter. And partly as a result of that conversation, Morrow has rebounded to have his best MLS season and help Toronto earn a chance at redemption.

“A penalty is a penalty," Vanney said on Tuesday. "Sometimes you make them, sometimes you miss them. Some feel bigger than others of course, but that's just the nature of the game. I was the taker for a lot of teams that I played for, so I've missed my fair share. [The conversation was] sharing my experiences with him, but you move on.” 

Morrow has done that and more, scoring a career-high eight goals from his left wing-back position, earning a 2017 MLS Best XI nod and finishing second in voting for the MLS Defender of the Year award to his friend, Ike Opara.

“It's something that I was able to move on from very quickly at the end of last year,” said Morrow on Saturday. “Knowing that our team is set up for success in 2017 and beyond was comforting.”

Like the rest of the side, Morrow was spurred on by what happened last season.

“We make our teams goals at the beginning of year. We've accomplished some of them and we have one big one left to go,” said Morrow. “Personally, I've always prided myself on getting better. That's always been a mantra of mine, no matter how old I am, to keep pushing the envelope, keep getting better.”

With a season behind him, his side in the final again, Morrow believes he's accomplished that. Not that the past is completely forgotten.

“To be able to come this year, push it again and do what I did this year is encouraging,” Morrow said. “[The loss] is in your mind if you don't have chance to win it again.

"We're right back; we have another chance.”

Should it come down to a shootout once more, Morrow will again be up for the challenge.

“The true sign of a guy who can move on is the guy who steps up and takes it the next time he has a chance; [who] wants it,” said Vanney. “[Justin] has that kind of confidence and belief in himself. After training every now and then he'll pop up and take kicks. I suspect, hopefully it won't get to that point, but if it does, Justin will be one of the guys who raises his hand.”