Toronto FC fullback Justin Morrow happy to be back on the training field
Toronto FC defender Justin Morrow (2) controls a pass during first half MLS action against the Houston Dynamo, in Toronto on Saturday, July 20, 2019. Amidst talk that the MLS may look to return to action with all teams playing in the Orlando area, veteran fullback Justin Morrow and other Toronto FC players are back training - albeit by themselves and under strict COVID-19 protocol. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, May 14, 2020 4:12PM EDT
Toronto FC fullback Justin Morrow's new normal is driving to the training ground in his soccer uniform, bringing a ball and training cones with him.
He has to complete a questionnaire before leaving the house, undergo a temperature check when he arrives at the club's north Toronto training centre and wear a mask from his car to the field for a solo workout.
“When we're on the field we're alone,” he told a media conference call Thursday. “I can see my teammates there. I might be able to shout to them but we not really interacting.”
He says it reminds him of something he might do in the off-season, if he went on vacation and only had a ball with him.
“I'm doing some running, I'm doing some dribbling but not much more than that. So in that sense it's strange.”
Still, the Cleveland native welcomes the chance to put his cleats back on and work with a ball on a decent pitch, via the voluntary individual workouts that started Monday for the Toronto players.
“It's tough being a professional athlete trying to stay fit at home,” he said. “Not being able to touch a soccer ball. It's really difficult.”
“I think the club's done an incredible job of getting of getting equipment out to us and giving us everything that they possibly could so that we could stay on top of things. But without space, it's really difficult to stay on top of what we need to do. So it's been really good to get back on the field and touch the ball again.”
He says it's also a form of mental relief “because it feels like OK, we're making some progress.”
MLS suspended play March 12, two weeks into the 2020 season due to the global pandemic. The league is reportedly looking at taking all 26 clubs to the Orlando area this summer for a training camp and then games without spectators.
Morrow understands the league's desire to get back in action as soon as possible while limiting the risk to all concerned.
“Everything that we're doing has risk to it - whether it's individual training, group training, full team training or full games, there's risk,” said Morrow. “And so at that point, being in Orlando centralized, I would feel comfortable that the league has taken all the proper precautions to keep us safe. And to keep us away from harm.
“But at the same time, this virus is very potent. So I would feel comfortable playing in a situation like this. I would just hope that there's some time between now and when that process actually starts, to really nail down the protocol so everyone's best interests are taken care of.”
While he said being away from his family would be tough in such a situation, he would prefer they stayed home.
“I feel pretty safe with them here up in Toronto,” he said. “Going down there is something I would want to take on my shoulders and not any more of my family”
With the Bundesliga returning to action this week, Morrow said he's excited to see how the German league fares. But he is not concerning himself with how COVID-19 might change the game, from goal celebrations to team meals in an era of physical distancing.
“Every time I think about how weird or how different it might be, I just come to think that everyone is doing their best in a really tough situation ... You don't want to jeopardize anybody's safety and so we're all just trying to find a balance here.”
The 32-year-old Morrow wants to get back to action, even if it means playing before empty stadiums.
“I'm not getting any younger and my career's not going to last forever. So I'd like to get in some games while my legs are still working,” he said with a laugh.
Morrow says his fitness level is probably what it would be at the start of training camp.
“Getting the touch of the ball back, getting my legs back underneath me from running sprints and stuff like that. Those are the things I haven't done in about two months now.”
The club is dividing up the workouts with a group of some 14 training on Mondays, Wednesday and Friday and the remaining players working out Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. They have two shifts a day with staggered arrival times, to avoid congestion in the parking lot.
After being in lockdown, it's good to see a friendly face - even at distance.
“Everyone had a smile on their face,” Morrow said.
Still it's different.
“It strange to talk to your teammates from six, 10 feet away - with a mask on. It's just not the same. But at the same time, we've all been on our own now for two months. And so it's just nice to see those guys at all.”
They are using two fields, with four players per pitch - each working by themselves in a separate quadrant. There's one coach per field.
The players learn of their training times and drills, complete with diagrams, via an app.
The only players not in town at striker Jozy Altidore, who is in Florida, and defender Laurent Ciman, who is back in Montreal at his family home. Both are doing their own workouts.
On a personal note, Morrow feels fortunate that his immediate and extended family is healthy. His home in Toronto has a backyard so he has a little more space to have with his Paraguayan wife Jimena and daughters Chiara and Lucia.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 14, 2020.