TORONTO – With MLS set to return from the FIFA World Cup break this weekend, Toronto FC are slowly starting to get healthy.
In recent weeks, Nick Hagglund, Eriq Zavaleta, Nicolas Hasler, and Ager Aketxe have all been welcomed back from the sidelines. And last Wednesday against D.C. United, Justin Morrow returned from a lengthy spell dealing with a calf strain in the second half of that rollicking 4-4 draw at BMO Field.
“It had been a long time for me,” said Morrow post-match. “It was good to get back out there and give the team some energy.”
Coming on in the 57th minute, just after TFC got the first goal in their rousing three-goal come back, Morrow made just his second league appearance of the season, his first having come way back on opening day against Columbus Crew SC.
That is a long time to be without an MLS Best XI calibre starter.
“He's one of the guys that we have missed,” said Greg Vanney. “He's the best left-back in the league. You can't really duplicate that.”
Recently, Ashtone Morgan, the man called upon in Morrow's absence in that position, too been out after deputizing excellently, leaving newcomer Ryan Telfer to fill that massive hole in the lineup.
“When Ash is in there, he's very comfortable in that role, both defensively and offensively,” explained Vanney. “Justin, especially when he's aggressive, does it at a level nobody else in our league can.”
“It adds a whole other dimension to our team, especially when we don't have Jozy [Altidore], somebody who will stretch the line on a regular basis,” continued Vanney. “Justin will constantly try to get behind, he'll be aggressive and he'll go. It adds a little something to our group.”
Telfer teed up Jonathan Osorio for the first goal on Wednesday, adding an assist to his goal against Orlando City SC last month, earning his coach's praise: “Ryan's assist was fantastic,” said Vanney.
But Telfer, who is more of a winger than a proper full-back, “is still learning the balance” required in that position, whereas “Justin is comfortable and experienced in what we're doing and how we do it. [He] proved his value once again in the second half.”
“Getting Justin back on was huge,” added Vanney. “His aggressiveness was really important.”
Stunned by the 3-0 half-time deficit, TFC clawed their way back level with a relentless second half display. And of course it was Morrow who clipped that inviting ball towards the back-post to be met by a powerful Hagglund header in the 86th minute to tie the match at threes.
D.C. stunned all by scoring their fourth shortly thereafter, but where others would falter, TFC just kept on going with Hagglund again rising for a stoppage-time header.
“A lot of teams after that fourth [D.C.] goal would have put their heads down, but credit to us for sticking in it and getting a point,” said Morrow. “I was happy I was able to come on and make a difference. Unlucky we didn't walk away with all three points, but it was a positive showing in the second half.”
Unbeaten in three, Vanney and his charges now have a moment to catch their breath and reflect on the season thus far, taking some time to rest and refocus in anticipation of the next phase of the MLS season, which begins on Sunday with a trip to New York City to face NYC FC.
This World Cup break, “comes at a good time,” according to Morrow.
“It’s nice that the whole league has [it],” explained Morrow. “We have got a big stretch coming up after the break, so it’s good for us to regroup and get ourselves ready.”