From the first time I saw Ashtone Morgan in a preseason match in Arizona, I was excited to see what he could bring to Real Salt Lake at left back. He was behind Donny Toia in the rotation, I thought, but he might be the player to force his way past him.
Morgan has a good attacking sense about him, and he stayed with the team after what was an unfairly disastrous 2020 for him in his professional career.
See, Ashtone Morgan is an international in MLS, unless he’s playing in Canada. He is, after all, Canadian. Coming to Real Salt Lake shouldn’t have seemed like a gamble. Multiple players were on the verge of receiving a green card, and that would have meant a completely open international slot for the longtime Toronto FC player.
2020 had other plans, as it did for so many.
Instead of MLS finding flexibility for teams struck by COVID-19 related difficulties, this odd situation cost Morgan roughly a year of his career, which he spent training with Real Salt Lake, unable to play. He was decidedly behind the players occupying international roster slots, and that was something we all could understand. The result: He sat on the squad, but not on the roster. It was a situation entirely not his making.
Thus it was largely a surprise when Morgan was on Real Salt Lake’s roster heading into 2021, but he’d lasted that first year, and it would have been a little shame to never see him play for the team. He provided important depth, and he had gobs of MLS experience with which to work.
Ashtone Morgan played just 371 minutes for Real Salt Lake in 2021. He found himself behind Toia to start the season — understandable, given Toia’s status as the starting left back. His first appearance didn’t come until mid-May, when he came off the bench for a 14-minute appearance against Nashville SC. That game ended in a 0-0 draw.
Morgan’s first start didn’t come until July 24, when RSL beat Colorado Rapids 3-0. You know — the own-goal match, when William Yarbrough miscontrolled a pass and ended up directing the ball into his own net. It was a good one. Morgan kickstarted the second goal with an excellent interception — it was Bobby Wood’s first goal in an RSL uniform. Morgan cleared a ball off the line in that one, too — it’s fair to say he had a big impact, and he was an important figure in his first-ever RSL start.
He’d go on to start a few more games, establishing himself as at least in contention for the starting left back position. But, like Donny Toia before him, his time as a Real Salt Lake starter was cut short when Freddy Juarez left the team, leaving Pablo Mastroeni as the interim head coach.
Mastroeni changed Real Salt Lake’s formation rather immediately, option for a setup that didn’t employ full backs. Morgan’s minutes dropped off completely, with just three minutes played before what appears to be his final appearance for the team: the 0-0 draw with Seattle Sounders, coming on in extra time.
Ashtone Morgan’s time at Real Salt Lake was profoundly weird, and it was one shaped in significant ways by situations over which he had no control. But when he played, he generally played well, and that was all anyone could ask of him.