When one looks back at the history of Toronto FC there have been a lot of names and a lot of faces that have contributed over the years.
The list is long, each important in their own way, but Ashtone Morgan will forever hold a special place in the hearts of the TFC faithful.
“When you talk about Ash, the first thing is what a good person he is, what a good man he is,” said Michael Bradley. “It's rare to find guys who have an ability to come in every single day with a smile and, regardless of how things are going for themselves, put the group above everything else in every moment.”
“Ash did that day after day,” continued the TFC captain. “The way he carried himself as a teammate, as someone inside the team, he always had such a good way about him and he was always ready to play. Always. Whether he had been playing in every game or not, when called he was always ready.”
“I shot him a quick message when I saw the news,” he added. “I'm proud of him. I'm proud to have shared some incredible experiences in our time together here and I'm excited to see what comes next.”
From one TFC legend to another.
Morgan announced his retirement from professional football last Monday at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ontario.
“I love this game so much. It's treated me well. It's given me a beautiful life, but that time has come to an end,” he explained. “It's never the easiest conclusion to come to. I've had time to think about myself, my future, where I'm at in football. There's no right way or wrong way to do this; just your way. It's my time.”
Prior to his season-and-a-half with Forge FC and a spell with Real Salt Lake, Morgan made 168 appearances in all competitions for TFC. He was the first player to reach the century mark, the first homegrown player to appear for the Canadian Men’s National Team.
He left after the 2019 season with five Canadian Championships, an MLS Cup and a Supporters’ Shield in the 2017 treble winning season. After two seasons with Salt Lake he joined Forge in the Canadian Premier League to lift another trophy, the North Star Shield, as 2022 CPL champions.
“All of us at TFC would like to congratulate Ashtone on a great career at both the club and international level,” said TFC General Manager Jason Hernandez, a former teammate of Morgan’s. “A trailblazer, the first graduate of the TFC Academy to feature for the Canadian Men’s National Team, he paved the way for the current generation of players to grow within our club.”
“Ashtone embodies the best qualities of what represents our city,” he continued. “Hard work, resilience, determination, humility, and accountability are just a few of the characteristics that made him a cornerstone of TFC for nearly 10 years. He was a foundational building block to which we were able to build a champion-caliber team and we hope to add more players of his fabric, both on and off the field, to our first team today.”
A member of the second class of TFC homegrown signings in 2011, Morgan, then a member of the TFC Academy, made his first team debut in October 2010 against Árabe Unido in the Concacaf Champions League. He made his MLS debut the following season and his international debut that October.
Through all that the ensuing years brought Ashtone Morgan was there.
“He was our first,” said Terry Dunfield, former teammate and current TFC interim Head Coach. “Our first local boy to not only make it through the Academy, but into the first team and stay there and represent Canada. He was the guy.”
“All of our young players aspire to be the next Ashtone Morgan; the dream was possible,” he continued. “Playing with him, for such a young player, he brought a level of maturity, consistency. He developed into a very good attacking left-back, was always learning and getting better. He had such a positive attitude and I think he took a ton of pride in being the local player that represented so many in the city every time he played at BMO Field.”
Retirement is always bittersweet. There is the selfish lament that never again will Morgan be seen marauding up that left flank, never again throwing himself into a tackle, but there is also the celebration of the moments shared.
“When Ash announced his retirement, it made me reminisce on all the great times that I’ve had with him,” said Jonathan Osorio. “We spent so many years together as teammates and roommates and, most importantly, as really good friends.”
“He had an amazing career and was a pioneer of the game in this country. He opened the doors for the youth in Toronto,” he continued. “One of the first to graduate from the Academy; one of the first to have real success on the first team. He is Toronto and means so much to Toronto FC and its history.”
Everyone who was a part of it will have their favourite moment.
“I'll never forget him flying into the box to score against Club América at home in the Champions League,” said Bradley. “It was an incredible goal.”
“A really important goal and such a big night for the club,” he added. “It was impossible not to just be so happy for him in that moment.”
Morgan’s goal was the third in a 3-1 TFC victory in the opening leg of the semifinal. It proved the series winner en route to the club’s first Concacaf Champions League Final appearance.
Others may prefer one of Morgan’s earlier involvements: after defeating David Beckham’s LA Galaxy in the quarterfinals of the 2011-12 Champions League, TFC went toe-to-toe with Mexican giants Santos Laguna in the semifinal, earning a 1-1 draw in the first leg at BMO Field, a match that ended in some fireworks with Morgan smack dab in the middle.
“Ash wasn't going to back down from anyone, ever,” laughed Bradley. “Didn't matter how old he was, it didn’t matter if it was preseason or Champions League. He was ready to go, always.”
It was an energy that presaged a new era for Canadian soccer. It was infectious.
Even at his final press conference, Morgan’s smile remained so.
“The best thing about him was how he was as a person,” highlighted Osorio. “Always brought good energy to the team and to people individually. He was a great professional and a true example for the youth of today.”
“I know that whatever comes next for him he will continue to make a great impact,” he continued. “I am honoured to have been able to call myself a teammate and a friend.”
Thanks for the memories Ash.
As for what comes next, aside from the coffee shop life, Morgan was quiet.
“The new spot is open today,” he said last Monday. “Coffee has always been part of my life, but honestly vacation. I need to relax – relax my body, relax my mind. I’m just looking forward to spending time with my friends, my family, stuff like that.”
The Sonndr Cafe opened their new location on Dundas St. West in Trinity-Bellwoods last week.
“As a fellow coffee aficionado,” said Bradley. “I'm jealous – and of course happy for him – that he's been able to take that idea of his and turn it into something so cool.”
A final message from Dunfield summed it up nicely: “Ash, all the best with your retirement. Lots of love and I'm really excited for what's next.”