Ashtone Morgan

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP

CCL: Toronto FC takes 3-1 lead over Club America

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The CONCACAF Champions League delivered on the day’s UEFA predecessors, with Toronto FC and Club America providing thrills and outstanding goals on Tuesday.

The semifinal first leg saw Toronto FC seize a two-goal advantage at a cold, sloppy BMO Field, boasting a 3-1 win ahead of the April 10 second leg at Estadio Azteca.

[ RECAPS: Juve-Real | Sevilla-Bayern ]

Sebastian Giovinco had a goal and an assist, Marky Delgado had two assists, while Jozy Altidore and Ashtone Morgan also scored for the hosts.

TFC went ahead early, with Sebastian Giovinco earning and converting a penalty kick in the ninth minute, but saw momentum halted by a mazy dribble from Andres Ibarguen. The diminutive Colombian winger took Michael Bradley twice before belting this shot past Alex Bono to make it 1-1 in the 21st minute.

Yet two of Toronto’s outstanding DPs teamed up to restore the Reds’ lead heading into halftime. Look at this ball from Giovinco to Altidore.

Being a Toronto playoff game, the event couldn’t be complete without tunnel drama. Plenty of arbiters were needed to separate several America and TFC players heading into the locker rooms a la Kljestan v. Altidore 2017.

The 58th minute saw TFC pick up what will feel like a comfort to many Canadians: a third goal. Ashtone Morgan burst into the 18 to reach a ball that was set to just miss Altidore.

Those who regularly criticize MLS will do well to witness this team goal.

Major League Soccer positional Top Tens: LEFT BACKS

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Major League Soccer’s full backs may be evolving, but particularly at left back, the pool’s a bit shallow. Three of the first six players in our Top 10 are the get forward types that weren’t part of the game in previous seasons, but the list falls off quickly.

One of the top players shot up the chart over the last year. Another was recently left exposed in expansion. One player spent a lot of time in midfield last season, while another no longer starts for his team. Our Top 10 list may not have much depth, but at left back, one California team certainly does.

Yesterday is was the right. Today, it was the left, with a crowded field at the bottom of our ranking sure to inspire debate among MLS hardcores.

Here are our Top 10 Major League Soccer left backs.

1. LA Galaxy’s Todd Dunivant (pictured)
2. San Jose’s Justin Morrow
3. Real Salt Lake’s Chris Wingert
4. Sporting KC’s Seth Sinovic >

Sinovic was a free agent in May of 2011 and was exposed in expansion later that year. Now he’s one of the top four left backs in the league? It’s hard to argue he should be much lower than this.

5. Toronto FC’s Ashtone Morgan >

You can’t help but think Morgan would be higher on this list if the situation at Toronto FC has been more stable last season. Maybe Ryan Nelsen starts tapping into his potential. He’s still probably going to be TFC’s highest ranked individual player, and he’s only fifth.

6. Houston’s Corey Ashe
7. San Jose’s Ramiro Corrales >

He’s been around since 1996, and if it wasn’t for the emergence of Justin Morrow, he’d still be in Frank Yallop’s starting XI. When healthy, he still finds plenty of playing time between defense and midfield. A lot of other teams in the league (good ones) could use the 35-year-old.

8. Vancouver’s Alain Rochat
9. Chicago’s Gonzalo Segares
10. D.C. United’s Chris Korb

(MORE: the entire roster of ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer previews and predictions)

Is Morgan a glimpse of the needed fullback evolution? (plus: CCL preview video)

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Ashtone Morgan is something new, and for teams used to preparing for a certain type of Major League Soccer fullback, that’s going to present new problems.

Because while the world has sprinted forward with asking their wide defenders to be able to test the opposition in their defending-third, MLS has played it safe. It’s approach to the position has been more in line with what you might see from the lower half of the Premier League down through the rest of the English League: Fullbacks are defensive first players, and if (as a player) you adhere to that, you’re going to be rewarded.

To this point, Morgan has not been defensive first, though it’s still early days. The 21-year-old Canada international has only made 11 starts in MLS, but it’s easy to see why he’s already broken into his senior national team. He has the pace, athleticism and speed to play left back and handle himself against whomever league throws at him, yet he also has a positional awareness that makes him a better fit for Toronto’s system than anybody TFC used at the beginning of 2011. In short: He is comfortable camping out – and contributing – in the final third.

It’s not the type of MLS fullback that’s usually lauded. FC Dallas’s Jair Benítez has been under-appreciated, and while a player like LA Galaxy’s Todd Dunivant can support going forward, the reason he’s considered MLS’s best fullback is because he’s a lock-down left back. His virtues on the wrong side of the center line are practically inconsequential. Unfortunately, as far as critics are concerned, so are Benítez’s.

It’s a relatively static view compared to the direction world soccer’s taken. From Barcelona to Real Madrid, Spain to Uruguay, there’s almost always a wide threat from the back who can get forward, whether that be Daniel Alves, Marcelo, or Maxi Periera. While there are exceptions (the current Milan comes to mind, though they tried to change that with the ill-fated Tayo Taiwo experiment), being able to get width in attack from your defenders has turned into a convention in the modern game.

Aron Winter’s system reflects this. Ideally in his 4-3-3, the deepest midfielder is more defender than midfielder. It leaves three back when the fullbacks are released, and while right back Richard Eckersley isn’t exactly the kind of player to take advantage of this liberation, Morgan is. Or, at least, he can be.

It’s something that could come into play tonight (against Santos Laguna), or any night. Down one late, when the defense narrows and starts focusing on the extra attackers you’ve thrown on, you don’t need another Todd Dunivant. When Joao Plata or Ryan Johnson draws the right back wide, and the deep midfielders have dropped to mark your attackers, who do you want running into that space? Somebody like Morgan.

If Ashtone Morgan can be that guy, we could start to see more players like him. Whereas at one time we had Jonathan Bornstein and Heath Pearce at the league’s left back position, now the field looks a bit conservative. True, Vancouver has Lee Young-Pyo, and the conversion of players like Corey Ashe and Lovell Palmer to wide positions hints the evolution is coming, but nobody is really utilizing the position the same way Winter is with Morgan. Instead of finding a balance, MLS still seems very much defense first.

If the direction the world’s game has taken can’t convince people to change, maybe Morgan can.

As for tonight, Morgan was one of a number of players interviewed in Torreón about TFC’s chances. Here’s what he had to say, specifically addressing whether he felt Santos had anything special up their sleeves for him:

And here’s coach Aron Winter on snacks, naps, and legends: