TORONTO – With his early-season tribulations now looking like they are behind him, Toronto FC left back Ashtone Morgan is feeling more like himself these days.
As is often the case for a young player when a new head coach takes over, the 22-year-old TFC Academy Graduate experienced some growing pains while adapting to incoming gaffer Ryan Nelsen’s system and found himself in and out of the lineup during first several months this season.
However, with his fine two-way play in recent weeks, the Canadian International looks to have turned a corner and solidified his place as a key player for the Reds.
“Confidence is a major thing,” Morgan told MLSsoccer.com. “Right now I am in form and I’m getting my swagger back. Things are going well.”
With Toronto FC’s youth movement in full effect, the recent fine play of Morgan has not gone unnoticed by his head coach.
“I don’t like singling out individuals, but I thought Ashtone Morgan was fantastic [against D.C. United on Saturday],” Nelsen said. “I keep saying this all the time. Young guys will have ups and downs. I’ll take that short-term pain for the long-term results of having good hardened players. We won’t give up on young guys. They are good players. We know their potential and we believe in them.”
With Swiss left back Jonas Elmer signing on with Toronto at the beginning of August, Morgan has looked very much a like a player who has benefited from the increased competition for minutes that Nelsen and President and General Manager Kevin Payne have been trying to engender as they have rebuilt TFC’s roster on the fly this year.
“I think competition is great for the whole team,” Morgan added. “The competitive atmosphere will only help us in the long run. I’m just trying to win my position and win my shirt. I’m trying to come into every training session and every game with an eye to winning my job and keeping my spot.”
Morgan was also quick to admit that, like his friend and teammate Henry, he has benefited from the leadership and mentorship that Scottish central defender Steven Caldwell has brought to TFC’s back line.
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“I love what Steven has brought to the team,” Morgan explained. “He has the experience and the knowledge and he is coaching and leading us in games and in practices. He is always communicating with us and he gives us a sense of ease at the back.”
While his pace and offensive abilities have always been the hallmarks of his game that have most impressed TFC supporters, the fact that Morgan has been again pressing forward with intent in recent weeks suggests a player who has now found his comfort zone on the defensive side of the equation.
“That’s who I am, I’m an attacking fullback that also likes to defend,” Morgan said. “The coaches have instilled in me to defend first and attack second. As players, we all know each other’s strength and weaknesses now. If I push up the field, I have the confidence knowing my teammates will back me up, whether it is Bobby [Convey] or Jeremy [Hall]. Both are doing a fantastic job and it is a good rhythm that we have on the left side right now.”