SANTA CLARA, Calif. — If he casts his mind back to 2010, San Jose Earthquakes defender Justin Morrow can still vividly remember being worked over in practices by the shifty moves of then-teammate Arturo Alvarez.
Alvarez may be long gone from San Jose, but the lessons he imparted on the raw rookie out of Notre Dame are bearing fruit today for the Quakes.
Drafted on the strength of his impressive speed and athleticism, Morrow has quietly and patiently developed into a solid defensive presence for the Quakes — something that was plainly evident Wednesday in San Jose’s 2-1 victory over FC Dallas.
HIGHLIGHTS: San Jose 2, FC Dallas 1
With Schellas Hyndman’s team dominating play for vast portions the first half, it was up to San Jose’s defense to turn aside dangerous passes at an alarming rate. And nobody had more such deflections than Morrow, a third-year player who dealt with the barrage so coolly that he was one shaken martini away from being mistaken for James Bond.
“Justin’s playing as well as anybody, not just for us but in the league,” San Jose coach Frank Yallop told reporters after the win. “Sometimes mentally, it takes a little while for the players coming out of college to come to grips with this league. And he’s really got to grips with it.”
Morrow and his mates helped hold the fort against an early Dallas onslaught until Marvin Chávez (12th minute) and Alan Gordon (45th) could give them some breathing room.
“He’s playing great,” Earthquakes star Chris Wondolowski said of Morrow. “He’s been a stalwart this whole year. ... A whole lot of [his performance] doesn’t go in the stat book, but you can see how well he’s been playing.”
Morrow is the only Quakes player to have been on the field for all 1,890 minutes worth of MLS action so far this season. That’s more than double the 869 combined minutes he earned in his first two professional seasons, and he feels that playing time is a large contributing factor to the maturity in his game.
“I think it’s just getting more experience, getting more games, and we have great veteran leadership on this team, so I’ve learned as much as I can from them,” Morrow told MLSsoccer.com. “Dallas has some of the fastest guys in the league up top – Jackson, [Brek] Shea and [Fabián] Castillo, which is a really hard trio to handle. If you can play well against those guys, I think you can do pretty well in this league.”
Morrow said that he apologized to Wondolowski after committing what he called a “bonehead move” -- jumping the gun on the Golden Boot leader’s 61st-minute penalty kick. Wondolowski’s successful strike was called back for Morrow’s encroachment, and the retake was saved by Dallas goalkeeper Kevin Hartman.
And Morrow also allowed that the Quakes’ defenders were not getting too caught up in patting themselves on the back after allowing an 89th-minute goal to Hernán Pertúz and a 94th-minute penalty kick -- which Jair Benítez missed, sparing San Jose the pain of losing two points at the death.
“I think a lot of guys feel like this wasn’t a win tonight,” Morrow said. “It almost feels like a bad result. Luckily we did get the points, and we can move on from here, but we did learn a lesson.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.