The first goals of the MLS season, the first points, building momentum ahead of the opening leg of the Concacaf Champions League semifinals against Club América on Tuesday. But more sentimentally, it also marked the return of Ashtone Morgan to the pitch in Toronto, his first there since last July against the Colorado Rapids and his first start at his home ground since the end of 2015.
“Back home finally,” said Morgan postgame. “It was great, get to play in front of our fans, my family.”
It was just his seventh league appearance in the last two seasons.
“I'm taking my games as they come,” added Morgan. “I feel like I'm getting back to my usual self. I was excited to help the team out, get the W.”
Starts in the last two matches with Justin Morrow out, as well as on international duty for Canada, have seen Morgan remind the TFC faithful what he is all about after missing large stretches of 2017 through injury.
“It's been a long road for Ash the last year and a half,” said Greg Vanney. “Broken fifth metatarsal, trying to work his way back and then it was setback after setback.”
“He's a pillar to the club,” continued Vanney. “A guy who has been around for a long time, who does his work, does his business. Every single day puts in the same effort, never an issue or a problem, even though he's a guy who hasn't played a ton.”
“Against Montreal [he] was solid, for Canada nice and solid,” added Vanney. “Today he was [again] and more aggressive on the attacking side, which is what we've asked from him: to look for opportunities to get behind the outside back. He found some and one of them turned into an assist for him. He had a great night.”
After arriving in the area to get on the end of a Sebastian Giovinco ball, Morgan cut inside leaving the shot at goal on a plate for Jozy Altidore, who made no mistake, placing his second of the night past Nick Rimando in the Salt Lake goal.
For his effort, Morgan earned a massive hug from his teammate.
“Huge,” smiled Altidore when asked of what Morgan means to the club. “From the day I got here, it was more important to get the approval of Ash and [Jonathan] Oso[rio], the Toronto boys, than anybody else. They've been here from the start. They know what this place is all about.”
“To see him play today,” began Altidore. “For me, every time Ash is on the field, I want to play well for him because he means a lot to the club, to the city, and to the Toronto fans.”
Morgan was the first Homegrown signing in club history back in March 2011. 2018 will be his eighth season with TFC. At the prime age of 27, he is the elder statesman in the Toronto locker room.
“I've been here for a decade now, from the academy to the first team,” said Morgan. “I assume that role naturally. I enjoy it.”
Whenever a teammate needs a recommendation or some insight on the city, Morgan is there.
His importance was exemplified last December, when TFC captain Michael Bradley called on Morgan to do the Viking Clap at the rally in Nathan Phillips Square following the MLS Cup parade. In celebration of the club reaching that pinnacle, Morgan was called center stage.
“It was surreal. Very emotional. I had a lot of butterflies,” admitted Morgan of that moment. “This is my team, my city. For me to be able to do that for the fans, for my family and friends, it was an amazing experience. I'll never forget that.”
How times have changed since those first days at TFC, with the team enduring an eight-year drought to begin their history before even reaching the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time in 2015.
“We went from never making the playoffs, long offseasons, to now competing for trophies,” marveled Morgan at last season's treble. “I talk with Jonathan [Osorio] sometimes [about the changes over the years]. We were such a young club. The sky was the limit. And it still is.”
A new pinnacle lies ahead. The next step: Club América on Tuesday.
“[Now] we're a big club, people want to come and play for us, play against us. Every game that we play is like a final,” said Morgan. “These are the games and atmospheres that we want to be a part of. The fact we can go for a fourth trophy, [building on] what we did last season, it's great; it's exciting. We want it. We really want it.”