Toronto FC announced today that 19 year old academy graduate Doneil Henry has signed a new deal with the club. As per policy blah blah blah terms weren't disclosed, but they're calling it a 'long term contract', and I imagine the salary is probably on a par with what Ashtone Morgan got when he re-signed earlier this year (union documents showed his salary bumped up to $50,000 for this year, hopefully with raises in the future).
This, together with his first cap for Canada forms a tasty good news sandwich for Doneil around the bad news of the knee injury suffered against Sporting kansas City on Saturday. Results of his MRI haven't yet come out, but hopefully it's not too bad, as his continued development is one of the few storylines still worth following for TFC right now, all this news coming on top of his good showing at the under 23 olympic qualifying tournament this March.
Though he was actually the first player signed from the academy, back in 2010 under Preki, his play isn't at the level of Morgan, who's a very worthy automatic starter at left back, quite yet. He played a few games in central defence at the end of Aron Winter's reign and the start of the MarinEra, and much like when he played some games last year, he initially looked bright before his performance level dipped a bit. In games against Kansas City and Houston he looked very shaky, understandable for a talented but raw youngster.
Paul Mariner obviously decided he couldn't risk him in the middle any more, but rather than being shuffled back to the bench and the reserve team, he ended up at right back. A very curious decision really, and a position he still seems unsuited for, especially when it comes to getting forward to support the attack. Maybe it's a plan to help his long term development through being put in an unfamiliar position and having to adapt and survive, and the more first team action he can get, whether at his preferred position or not can only help him you'd think.
Hopefully the long term plan isn't to try and turn him into a right back, but it's very good news that he's joined Morgan as another academy graduate to make it into the club's long term plans. I think it's unlikely Oscar Cordon or Keith Makubuya ends up taking that next step, and Nicholas Lindsay may or may not depending on his recovery from injury, but two players already making it past their initial deal into the club's long term plans is nothing to sneeze at.
Way too much gets made of TFC's 'Canadian content' as if it gives us some kind of moral advantage over clubs like Vancouver who actually have enough talent to keep players like Russell Tiebert out of the team. The fact that Henry was getting minutes earlier in the season was down to injuries, a lack of quality and the scouting failure that was Geovanny Caicedo and Miguel Aceval, let's not dress it up as some kind of noble ideal. Hopefully he isn't seriously injured in any way, but even if healthy, I'd rather he didn't have to be in the first team right now, especially playing at right back as we've got more than enough centre backs to allow Eckersley to play there. having said that, with the season already over maybe helping Henry develop is the best decision, rather than focusing too much on results right now.
Whatever the reasons behind that decision, give him a year or two and he should be a solid starting Centre Back, he certainly has the potential for that. If he can navigate the treacherous waters of TFC's defence and too frequent changes in styles of play, maintain his confidence and fulfil that potential, then that will certainly be something to be proud of for TFC, the academy and Henry himself. This is a good and well earned step towards that time.