Player to Player with Justin Morrow

‘When you’re at your highest level you have to push harder’ – Life Lessons With Justin Morrow

With a playing career spanning more than twenty years and a whole host of team and individual honours to his name, Justin Morrow knows a thing or two about the beautiful game. In this episode of Player to Player, Stevie sits down with Justin to ‘crack a beer’ and learn about what it takes to reach the top – and stay there. 

After the draft took him to San Jose Earthquakes in 2000, Justin recalled the challenge of those early years and finding his feet at club level:

‘Yeah it was really tough – the uncertainty of it all because [when] you get drafted you don’t have a contract yet – you still have to go into the training camp. It was a little bit easier back then because there were more roster spots available than there are now […] I performed well in training camp and I got a contract but it was like a semi-guaranteed contract so up until July they could still cut you. So I remember just being nervous all the time.’

‘I remember thinking I don’t think I can do this anymore. You know what? I have a good education, I graduated from Notre Dame, maybe I’ll just, you know, pack a bag and get this over with. But I stuck with it and at the end of my second year I got a good run of play and did pretty well with it and by the third year I was a starter.’ 

Just before the move to TFC in 2014, Justin had to navigate another challenging period. Rather than crumbling under the pressure or becoming disullusioned with the game, Morrow dug deep and used a major set back to spur him on towards even higher achievement on the pitch:

‘Our coach got fired in the summer. This was the coach who had brought me there and put his faith in me. The assistant coach, Mark Watson, took over and they went in a different direction. In 2013 I wasn’t the only one – a lot of guys after that left that team. And so I, as a professional, as a human being, I always look inward. I think the easy way out is to start putting blame on other people and pointing fingers, saying “my coach got fired and this guy doesn’t believe in me, they’ve made the wrong decision or whatever.” But I put the blame on myself, and say that I didn’t keep my foot down in that moment. And being a young professional it was something that needed to happen to me so I could learn that and bring that attitude when I came to Toronto – that I never wanted to take my foot off the gas, no matter how successful I’d been. It’s a life lesson that still sticks with me today: when you’re at your highest level you have to push harder. Because this game, this sport, nobody cares what you did yesterday – they only care about what you’re going to do tomorrow.’

Justin recalled how the main strength of the classic 2017 TFC lineup was due in no small part to the depth of the squad:

‘Being on a team that has so many good players – you don’t forget that. Oso and I were talking about this just this preseason when we were out in California. The practices that we used to have in 2017 – the second team was soooo good! We’d be out there with the first team against the second team, you know, doing tactics for a big match coming up and the second team would be absolutely giving it to us. I mean you have Benoît Cheyrou, you had Armando Cooper, you had these guys that are so good on the ball and we would be in training trying to get the ball – we couldn’t get the ball off these guys!’ 

And that strength in depth showed itself again before the start of last season, when the foundations of the championship winning side was suddenly and unexpectedly dismantled before a ball had even been kicked:

‘These were not planned things. Van der Wiel got into it with Greg early in training camp and that came to a scene really early, where we knew that he wasn’t going to be a part of things. Victor came in early 2019 asking if he could take this opportunity abroad because it was going to be a really good opportunity, and credit to TFC – they let him do that. They worked out a deal that was going to be beneficial for both of them, and then Seba really wanted to work something out for himself as well, and so at the end of the day those are three players leaving the club in pre-season. ‘

‘And so we’re kind of scrambling from that moment and it just shows credit to the guys that are still here, that have been a part of it the whole time. What we’ve learned in the past and how we can bring that to the team right now – what are our best qualities. And credit to Greg – his tactics and his plan have really shown through in 2019 to keep us together as a team. And not only that, but to really bring the best out of us when maybe there were some holes in the roster and still show that a good tactical plan can help you get to the final.’ 

Edwin Tubb