By Liviu Bird
SEATTLE - When Toronto FC picked Emery Welshman with the 16th overall pick in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft, the club received not just a dynamic forward, but also a Toronto fan.
"It's my hometown team, so no matter what, I'm going to support all Toronto sports," he said after a college game in late September. "Of course, they're not doing as well as I would love them to do, but I always check up on them."
Now, the Mississauga native who played his youth soccer at Sigma FC is going home to play for his favorite MLS club. However, his ambitions reach far beyond the domestic league.
"I guess MLS would be a very realistic thing, but of course, being young and being ambitious, I would love to see how Europe would be - anywhere in Europe," he said.
Early in his 2012 senior season at Oregon State University, Welshman looked to be just a step above his competition in NCAA play. He scored six goals in the Beavers' first eight games, including a hat trick against Wisconsin-Green Bay.
That performance earned him his only Pac-12 Player of the Week award. He was on the All-Pac 12 First Team his junior and senior years and made the NSCAA All-Region Second Team in 2012.
He led the team in points two years running, including more than doubling the next-highest goal tally on the Oregon State team last season, when he scored 10.
"I'm known for scoring goals," Welshman said succinctly. "It's what I'm up there to do."
Even speaking after a 1-0 loss to University of Washington on Sept. 30, in which he failed to put one past the opposing goalkeeper, Welshman was not short on self-confidence.
"I'm coming into my own being a target striker, and I think in that front line, I can play anywhere," he said, describing his ideal position.
At 5 feet, 11 inches and 180 pounds, Welshman isn't the type of forward who scores a lot in the air in a crowded penalty area. His play is mostly predicated on holding the ball up, playing with his back to goal and finding gaps in the opposition back line.
"He's another fine Oregon State striker," Beavers head coach Steve Simmons said. "(He is one of many) that have come through the ranks at Oregon State and have gone on."
The list of Oregon State forwards in the professional ranks is extensive. It is a who's who of MLS talent, including former Toronto FC man Ryan Johnson, Portland's Danny Mwanga, San Jose's Alan Gordon and Salt Lake's Robbie Findley.
He and his coach had similar things to say about what any MLS team that drafts him would get.
"You'll get a strong, fast, technical striker who has a nose for goal and can also create plays," Welshman said.
Simmons added, "They're going to get an explosive, electric player, clinical finisher, two-footed - just a great kid."
As with most players in the draft, Welshman is far from a finished product. His ability in front of goal is shaky at times, but if his finishing doesn't improve, he may be a solid choice on the wing.
He likes to get the ball at his feet and run at defenders. Entertainment value will be high with Welshman on the field, and his current speed and creativity is good enough that he can make an immediate impact on the field for Toronto.
Welshman may soon wear the red-and-white of another team, if the Canadian national team starts to take notice of him.
"If they knew who I was, I guess," he said with a laugh. "I've been pretty much, essentially, ignored by the national team, but that happens to a lot of people. If they called me, my door is always open."
If Welshman's potential is as high as his college coach claimed, he should have no trouble attracting attention.
"(He is) a good young player that's going to learn and is going to have a great attitude," Simmons said. "He's got the gifts, obviously, but that's what these pro teams want: they want kids that are special but that are coachable, and that's what he is."