TORONTO – With the likes of Steven Gerrard, Andy Carroll and Fabio Borini still recuperating in the aftermath of Euro 2012, Brendan Rodgers wasted no time evaluating the young talent at his disposal.
In truth, he had little choice.
Scattered in among senior players on Saturday against Toronto FC were a number of academy players and up-and-coming prospects such as Nathan Eccleston, Suso, Daniel Pacheco, Stephen Sama and Jordon Ibe. Two of the club’s most talked about youngsters, winger Raheem Sterling and striker Adam Morgan (above left), even combined to create Liverpool’s lone goal in the 1-1 draw.
WATCH: Toronto FC vs. Liverpool FC
“I was pleased with the young guys. It’s obviously difficult because you have a mixture of the senior and the youth players,” Rodgers said, “so sometimes the rhythm and tempo of your game can be affected. I thought that a lot of them stood out and did very well.”
Morgan, in particular, had a dream start to the club’s North American tour, tapping in the game-tying goal in the 69th minute. The 18-year-old is coming off back-to-back 20-goal seasons for the academy and even had his father in the stands to help commemorate the occasion.
With the ball rolling slowly toward the goal line – and likely to be cleared by the TFC defense – Morgan popped up to give Liverpool the equalizer and Rodgers’ first positive result as manager of the Merseyside club.
“He’s got a natural eye for a goal. If he doesn’t arrive at that moment, the goal doesn’t go in,” Rodgers said. “If you watch the replay, [the defender] is getting back on the line and will probably defend it. So he’s got that natural instinct to score.”
For a second, though, it looked like Sterling might get the honors. After taking on two defenders, he managed to slip a shot under Toronto goalkeeper Quillan Roberts from a tight angle. Morgan popped up to claim the limelight, but Rodgers was still effusive in his praise for one of Liverpool’s brightest prospects, who became the club's third-youngest player after coming on as a substitute in March at age 17.
“Raheem’s a boy that’s very persistent. He doesn’t get knocked easily, shows great courage, great bravery on the ball,” he said. “His strength for the goal was impressive. That was the thing that surprised me for such a slight guy.”
And even though Rodgers was happy with the individual performances of his up-and-comers, he was even happier with the determination they showed as a unit after it looked like TFC might come away with a victory after going up 1-0.
“No matter even if it’s just a preseason friendly, it’s always good to get a result,” he said. “We showed a nice wee bit of character in the second half, especially with a young team, to come back and get the goal.”