TORONTO — Justin Morrow admits that his transition back from helping the United States win the Gold Cup last month to Toronto FC has been a difficult one.
But after scoring twice in Toronto's 4-1 win over the Portland Timbers on Saturday, the 29-year-old defender feels a weight lifted off his shoulder.
"I don't think I was having the easiest time when I came back from the national team," said Morrow. "It's hard to put into words how difficult that is for someone who hasn't been with the national team in a while to have that big moment, winning the Gold Cup.
"Then to come back here, transition, I give Mike (Bradley), Jozy (Altidore) and these guys credit because they've been doing it for their (whole) career, it shows how good they are at it. But it wasn't easy for me."
Morrow got the Reds on the board in the 57th minute, picking up the loose ball outside the area and putting his left-footed strike up and over Portland goalkeeper Jeff Attinella for his fourth goal of the season.
After Victor Vazquez gave Toronto a 2-0 lead, Morrow picked up a Giovinco pass intended for Jozy Altidore and beat Attinella for his second of the night.
Marco Delgado had the other goal for Toronto (13-3-8), which remains unbeaten at home this season (9-0-3). The Reds are also unbeaten in six straight overall (3-0-3).
Despite controlling the play for large portions of the first half, the Reds were unable to find the back of the net. A halftime chat in the locker-room is what sparked the offence, according to Morrow.
"I don't think we can be happy with the way the game went in the first half today," the defender said. "We responded in the second half, but I think that was a character thing. We challenged ourselves, we spoke at halftime.
"I think there were a couple plays in the first half where we let ourselves down."
Diego Valeri spoiled Alex Bono's bid for a clean sheet with a goal in the 89th minute for Portland (9-9-7), which had its three-game unbeaten streak snapped.
Bono made four saves to record his 20th career victory tying him with Stefan Frei for the club record.
"Wins are kind of one of those things that they stick on a goalkeeper as a stat, but it's a real testament to how the team has done since I've come in," Bono said. "It's an honour to have my name be the name that put on that stat, but in reality I know I could be nowhere close to that without the guys in front of me."
Both sides were forced to make early first half substitutions.
Timbers 'keeper Jake Gleeson appeared to suffer a left hamstring injury in the 13th minute after pulling up while chasing a loose ball in the area. He tried to play through it, but was replaced by Attinella in the 18th minute.
The Reds lost Nick Hagglund in the 15th minute due to a left knee sprain. The defender was chasing down a Timbers attacker just outside the area when he fell awkwardly and caught his left leg underneath his body.
Jason Hernandez replaced Hagglund, who suffered a torn MCL in his left knee in May, and was making just his second start since returning.
"It's a sprained knee, not the same extent as the last one," said TFC coach Greg Vanney. "Hopefully a quicker turnaround, hopefully we got him before anything too serious."
Saturday was the lone meeting of the season between the two clubs. The Timbers won the only contest last year 2-1.
Dhiren Mahiban, The Canadian Press