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St. Ignatius grad and MLS player Justin Morrow talks soccer in America

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There are Earthquakes in the security line at San Jose International airport -- the MLS' San Jose Earthquakes. They're shipping out to Columbus for a matchup this weekend against the Crew. Justin Morrow is among them. Morrow was a standout on the St. Ignatius soccer squad of the mid-aughts that dominated regional sports' headlines. They won two consecutive state titles and were ranked #1 nationally in 2006. Now, after playing at Notre Dame and suffering through a minor-league reappointment for the majority of his rookie season, Morrow's an elite defender in the pros. He played in the MLS all-star game last year and was on a preliminary roster for the U.S. National team. Coaches like his instinct and guts on the field. Over the phone, after security and a quick airport beverage, he's as cordial and gracious as he was back in high school.

Sam Allard: Justin!

Justin Morrow: Sam.

It's been a minute buddy. Look, I know time is tight, so I'll just shoot these off quickly.  

That sounds good.

First off, how's the season so far?

We're 1-and-1. We lost the first one and won the second one.

You're headed to Columbus now, but what's the best soccer town in the country?

The MLS is very broad in that it changes a lot from city to city. San Jose has great fans. I mean all the Northwest -- Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, LA Galaxy -- they all have great fans, you know? I feel blessed to be able to play in this sort of area where we play those teams a lot.

Definitely feels more soccer-y than the Midwest.

Yeah, I mean I love going up to Portland. It's one of my favorite places to go, just because the stadium is in the middle of the city. You notice things like when you're driving to the game, there are fans walking out on the street. Every pub, every bar, every restaurant has a Portland Timbers sign.


Yeah, it's pretty incredible to see that stuff, to see how soccer's growing in America.

Reminds me of Europe.

It's incredible. And obviously Seattle's like [Portland] too. They get all the ESPN games and, you know, 30 plus at every game.

Thirty plus?

Thirty-thousand plus, yeah.

That's nuts. Pro soccer has a pretty intricate scheduling situation, right? With club play and then national and international stuff?

Well, I mean it's a long season. It starts off kinda slow and then in the summer you get different tournaments that you do -- the US Open Cup which is not only MLS; the leagues under it are involved too -- and then we qualified for the Champions League which is North America pretty much, Mexico too. So the summer really picks up.

Speaking of which, what's the story with the National team? I heard you didn't make the final roster for now, but is there a chance that you could still play?

So there actually is no final roster. There are 10 games throughout the year and I could make any one of the ten. [Coach Jurgen Klinsmann] could call in a different roster for every game. So, you know, some guys could get hurt and I might get called in, so that's still a possibility. They just announced that there's gonna be a game in Cleveland in May, so hopefully I get to play in that one. That would be awesome.

Was just going to ask. What are your memories like of playing soccer back here?

I grew up playing soccer all around Cleveland; on the east side as far as Mentor, on the west side as far as Westlake, on the south side as far as, you know, Lodi, so I was all over the place. And the guys that I grew up with were very good. And I think the area's starting to get a lot more recognition now because many of those guys who I played with are now in the MLS. You look at [Lakewood native] Darlington Nagbe who came out of Akron, and all those Akron guys: Ben Zemanski, Ben Speas, they've got a lot of guys in the MLS now, so it was great to play with them.

And what about Ignatius?

Ignatius was a great culture. I think it's really where I developed a winning mentality. We were very professional back then, the way we were handled. I'd say it all started in Cleveland.

Do you still keep up with your co-stars on the 2006 team? Mark Blades? Barry Rice?

Oh yeah, those two guys are my best friends. They'll be coming to my wedding and all that. I talk to those guys weekly. It's been a blessing to have those two as teammates.     

Out of curiosity, what it would take for Cleveland to get an MLS team?

So the way it has been working with expansion teams is that they'll start you off with a lower division team and if that team shows that they have a fan base big enough to sustain an MLS franchise, that's the process. I know Cleveland has started it in the past but it just never reached that fan base. I know soccer is really popular in Cleveland though. There are a ton of clubs and a ton of kids that were playing when I was younger up til now. The fans are there. We would just need a team to centralize around.

What do you think you'll do after soccer?

I mean I graduated with a finance degree, so I'd really like to use that when I'm done with soccer. Whether it be I-banking or corporate finance or, you know, anything along those lines. But I definitely want to change it up and get out of soccer when I'm done.

Which is when? What's the typical trajectory of a pro-soccer player?

I think I'd retire between 30-35. It really just depends on how your body's holding up. I'm 25 now, so I'm hoping I've got another five solid years and then we'll see how it goes.

And for the record, will you be making a repeat trip to the MLS all-star game this year?

That's the plan.

*Morrow has had a whirlwind few days since this interview: In Columbus on Saturday afternoon, he scored the lone goal for the Earthquakes and forced a 1-1 tie against the Crew. Then on Monday, he was called up – as he'd forecast – for a pair of World Cup Qualifiers with U.S. National Team. He'll be on the roster for match ups on March 22, against Costa Rica, and March 26, against Mexico.

About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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