“I want to play for Toronto FC”

That’s what Doneil Henry, the first graduate of the TFC Academy to sign with the big club, told his mom two years ago, after he was cut from a provincial team. He didn’t give up the game. He didn’t shove soccer aside in pursuit of other ambitions. He kept at it, because he saw light at the end of the tunnel. He knew that if he worked hard and improved his skills, he would have the opportunity to play for a high-level professional team, right in his hometown.

Allow me to quote myself, from almost exactly two years ago:

But wouldn’t it be a glorious day if TFC could produce a Canadian version of Maurice Edu? A homegrown talent who comes up through the TFC development system, plies his trade at BMO, gets whisked off to the glory of Europe, and comes back to don the maple leaf whenever called upon? That day will be the high watermark of TFC and the CSA working to their full synergistic potential.

I’m not saying Henry is the Canadian Maurice Edu. He’s only 17, and no one knows for sure yet where his career will go. But whether Henry goes on to become a linchpin in Canada’s backline, or a mere blip on the radar, the precedent has been set. The tens of thousands of kids growing up playing soccer in the Greater Toronto Area can look to Henry as an example of what they, too, could accomplish. They won’t have to abandon soccer due to a lack of opportunities — or wait around desperately hoping for some foreign club to pluck them from obscurity.

They, instead, can dream of one day playing at BMO Field — for the TFC Academy, for Toronto FC or, just maybe, for Canada.

Yesterday was a big day for Doneil Henry, no question. But as Canadian soccer fans, whether you’re from Toronto or not, it was a big day for the rest of us too. (Edit: See the comments for more.)

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11 Responses to ““I want to play for Toronto FC””

  1. Yes, it was a big day for all of Canada, because no player had ever come from, say, the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency and become a player with, say, the Vancouver Whitecaps. It has never happened. This is a huge day for everybody across the country. Revel in the glories of Toronto.

    • As much as I love your snark, Bobbo — and I mean that honestly — you have to understand that when I write about Toronto, I’m not writing as someone who believes the “centre of the universe” bullshit. When I write about something that Toronto FC does, and how it relates to the national team, I’m not writing it in such a way as to diminish the past, present or future of other cities or clubs in the country.

      I’m writing it as someone who was born and raised a soccer fan in Toronto and for whom, until a few years ago, concepts such as “a homegrown kid having a local development system he could go through en route to playing for our local pro teams” were absolutely foreign. A well-supported, well-funded and successful professional soccer team is something that didn’t really seem possible in Toronto for a long time.

      Yes, obviously the Whitecaps have a longer and more illustrious history than Toronto FC does. But I don’t know as much about the Whitecaps as I do about TFC, because I don’t live in B.C. You do. That’s why you focus your domestic coverage on them, and I focus mine on Toronto. You’ve had a professional club team to attach your passion to for longer than I have.

      When I treat something like the Henry signing as a big deal, I’m not acting as if it’s new or revolutionary to most people. But to a Toronto soccer fan, it kinda is.

      And linking this story to the national team, again, has nothing to do with Toronto ego, or diminution of the Whitecaps or anyone else. But the cold, indisputable reality is that nearly a quarter of the country’s entire population lives in the Greater Toronto Area, or in southern Ontario within spitting distance of the GTA. So, statistically, a good chunk of this country’s promising players will probably come from the Toronto area.

      Thanks to the TFC Academy, the next Jono deGuzman probably won’t have to wait to be scouted by some European club. Maybe he — whoever he is — will instead look at Toronto FC as a viable goal. And will play in Canada, instead of abroad. And will turn that domestic experience into a desire to play for Canada, rather than Holland or wherever else.

      This situation did not exist even five years ago. And THAT is why it’s a big deal for Canadian soccer fans. Not because Toronto FC is special or unique or terrific. But because statistically speaking, the next potential Jono deGuzman has a good chance of coming from somewhere near Toronto. And now, there’s a better chance that he will hypothetically play for Canada some day, instead of someone else.

      But honestly, if through some statistical anomaly, all of Canada’s future stars grow up in the lower mainland and go through the Whitecaps Academy, and lead Canada to the World Cup, and the TFC Academy does nothing beyond churn out a succession of middling MLS utility players, I’m perfectly content with that too.

      • I don’t think anybody ever deliberately says “Toronto is the centre of the universe”. Your post was fantastic until the very last sentence, which to an outside viewer exhibited that same casual narcissism that underpins any discussion anybody has about just about anything of national scope in this country.

        Again, I fully believe you didn’t wake up, see the news, pump your fist, and say “yeah, that’ll show those western maggots what a real World Class City is capable of”. But surely you can see how a call for all of Canada to celebrate Toronto FC doing something that a club in another part of the country has been doing for a few years now would come off the wrong way.

      • Fair point, as usual.

  2. –Again, I fully believe you didn’t wake up, see the news, pump your fist, and say “yeah, that’ll show those western maggots what a real World Class City is capable of”.–

    I definitely do that every morning when I wake up, whether TFC signs an academy player or not.

    • Kevin Smith Says:

      I wake up every morning to the sad reality that the 4th largest city in the country doesn’t have a field, let alone a team 😦

      Why is Ottawa’s city council about as useless as my appendix? It doesn’t do anything for a while and then randomly explodes wasting time and money.

      • City councils suck worldwide.

      • You should see Hamilton. It is the world leader in “white elephant” production thanks to its carousel of miscreants that get elected there. Oh the progress they’ve shunned in the face of their own belligerence.

        You’ll probably get your field before we do. 🙂

  3. Jabbronies Says:

    I think Canada should rejoice that a professional club in Toronto has finally signed a homegrown player to a pro contract. With all of the people we have here, its taken way too long for this to happen. I think its an embarrassment that all of or major epicenters in this country are not on the same level as the whitecaps when it comes to played development. Especially in Ontario, An untapped resource is finally being utilised.

    As an ex player in this city who has played with and against some great talent, I don’t think the celebration should be that Toronto signing players will save the day but more like our Payers are finally bring given a chance!

  4. soccer is all i wona do .i just wona tike the ball and play like the dancer i won creat the funni to followers and give the victory to my clube is all i wona do

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