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Former fullback Morgan relishes new role with Toronto FC front office

Ashtone Morgan Toronto FC Ashtone Morgan - The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Ashtone Morgan credits then-assistant coach Jason Bent for setting him on the right path when he signed his first contract with Toronto FC.

Bent, now part of Greg Vanney's coaching staff at the Los Angeles Galaxy, told him: “Don't buy any Gucci. Don't buy Louis (Vuitton). Don't buy a car." And instead focus his energy on earning another contract.

Words to live by when you're only making US$32,600 a year and half of your four-year deal consists of club options. Morgan has friends who never got that second contract.

As TFC’s new manager of player engagement and alumni relations, the 32-year-old Morgan is looking to offer some assistance of his own these days.

Two months into the job, Morgan is relishing his new role, which includes mentoring young players to help them grow on and off the field.

In essence, the job is open-ended. Morgan is there to help, as needed.

"Every day's been different so far," he said. "Some days I'm on the pitch a little bit. Some days I'm more at my desk or having conversations with players throughout the building … I'm kind of wearing a lot of hats at once, which is great."

The job also includes finding "more ways to bridge the gap from players of the past and players who are coming up," he says.

While new to the job, Morgan says he learned from the likes of former teammates Michael Bradley, Julian de Guzman, Drew Moor and Luke Moore, to name but a few.

"There is a whole list," he said.

But he singles out Bent, a former Canadian international, for special mention.

"If there was no Jason, there was no me, for sure. He helped me out. He was like the big brother, the mentor, my coach, everything all in one. He would always be in my ear, every step of the way, from my first contract to my last contract."

In his new job, Morgan follows in the footsteps of former Toronto defenders Jason Hernandez and Justin Morrow.

Hernandez became TFC's first manager of player engagement in April 2019 after calling time on his 14-year playing career. Morrow, meanwhile, moved into the front office in February 2022 and helped young players with their pathway through the ranks in his role as technical development manager.

Morrow has since moved on. Hernandez is now Toronto's general manager.

For Hernandez, bringing Morgan into the front office completes a circle of sorts. He had originally planned to retire after Toronto's 2017 championship season, only to have then-GM Tim Bezbatchenko ask him to return for one more season to help the club in its CONCACAF Champions League run.

Hernandez, looking to return to his native New York to start the next chapter of his life, wasn't interested. So Bezbatchenko made another offer.

Play one more year and then transition to the front office "to begin learning the business."

"You never know where that takes you," Bezbatchenko, now president and GM of the Columbus Crew, told Hernandez at the time.

Now Hernandez is passing it forward.

Morgan seems ideally qualified for the job. As a player, he had energy to burn. A personable type, he comes with a ready-equipped smile. Plus he knows the city and club back to front.

"He can move seamlessly in and out of different spaces which is really important," said Hernandez, citing TFC's first and second teams, academy and support staff.

"We're definitely going to lean on him in more ways than one," he added.

Morgan joined the Toronto academy at 16 and was 20 when he signed a homegrown contract with Toronto's first team in March 2011, making his MLS debut nine days later. He was the first player in franchise history to reach 100 appearances for the club and its first homegrown player to play for the Canadian national team.

Morgan, who represented Canada at the youth level and was named Canadian Under-20 Player of the Year in 2011, went on to win 18 caps for the Canadian senior side.

He has also seen the other side of the business of soccer.

Toronto opted not to pick up his contract option after the 2019 season. At the time, Morgan was the team’s longest-serving player with 168 appearances in all competitions during nine seasons with his hometown club.

"Full transparency, I was gutted. I was really gutted," he said. "It left a bad taste in my mouth for sure. I wasn't happy. I wasn't pleased with it … It was really heavy."

Morgan went on to spend the 2020 and 2021 seasons with Real Salt Lake before returning to Canada to join Forge FC. He made 41 appearances for the Hamilton-based club, winning the Canadian Premier League championship in October 2022.

He says his time with Forge "made me fall in love with football again," playing under coach Bobby Smyrniotis and alongside former TFC teammate Kyle Bekker.

"Winning is infectious and that club brought that out of me again. And I loved it," said Morgan.

But despite that, he began to think about retirement.

"I felt like my happiness bar wasn't being fulfilled by the game. I loved the game to the very end and the game will always be a part of me. But I got to a point where it just didn't define everything I am and what I can give to myself and give to the world."

Still, it took six months to come to a final retirement decision. But once the announcement was made July 31, there were no regrets.

"Honestly it was a breath of fresh air," he said. "I still feel fit, I still feel great. Smiling every day, But I feel good. I feel happy with my decision."

Away from the game, Morgan, former TFC teammate Liam Fraser (now with FC Dallas) and a good friend own a coffee shop in downtown Toronto.

Sonndr (pronounced Sonder) Cafe, which opened in July 2021, came out of their love for the coffee culture.

"After I'd train every day, I'd go to a new cafe — or a cafe that I love," said Morgan, who would search out new java joints with TFC teammates while on the road.

Now he has his own spot for friends, family and anyone else to drop in and enjoy themselves.

"It's doing great. We're loving it," he said with a smile.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 7, 2023.