Few would have expected Canada's men's national team to be within one goal of the world's number 3 team, Colombia, when they received a last minute free kick during the October friendly. Even fewer would have anticipated the kick taker, 19-year old Manny Aparicio with his first touch on the senior national team. The free kick ultimately went into the wall, but the fact that Benito Floro had the confidence to put Aparicio on the field at such a crucial moment in the match is telling.
Just as promising were comments from Danny Dichio, who was doing the Sportsnet broadcast for the match. When Dichio saw that Aparicio had taken the crucial set piece, he chuckled, saying this was very in line with the player who he knew very well. Dichio had coached Aparicio as he made his way through the ranks of Toronto FC's academy. In August of 2013, Aparicio became the eight player to graduate from the academy to the senior team, doing so at just 17 years of age.
He has yet to really break into the senior team, with no MLS appearances again this year. How he fits into the plan going forward tends to still be a little bit murky at the best of times. But at his young age this isn't something that should be too concerning. He still has plenty of time to turn himself into a contributor for the club, or somewhere else if he continues to turn heads the way he has since joining the academy.
Like his young peers who were too good for the academy but not quite at the level to get regular minutes with the senior team, Aparicio spent most of the season with the Wilmington Hammerheads. Of this group, he might have had the worst season: but considering just about everyone from TFC who played for the Hammerheads played well, that doesn't necessarily mean Aparicio was awful.
But he didn't play a huge role like some of his other former academy teammates, and that was a tiny bit concerning for his development. His stat line wasn't anything incredibly impressive: he played 19 matches and 808 minutes and one goal, no assists. For those counting 808 minutes only comes out to about nine full 90 minute matches. Getting minutes for a teenager is always going to be tough, no matter where in the world they are being distributed.
As a midfielder who is more revered for his attacking play than anything, 2014 was a bit of a year to forget for the youngster. That isn't to say it was a step back in his development, however. Aparicio will be more than prepared for his time in Wilmington next season, which seems like it will be his fate, and will likely be more of a regular contributor.
He also has been a regular callup for different levels of the Canadian national team setup. He was part of the Canadian team that had a decent showing at this year's Milk Cup, going 1-1-1 and reaching the final where they lost 1-0 to the host Northern Ireland.
Aparicio played well in that competition, but a spot on the Canadian U20 team going forward is going to be tough for him to find. The team is blessed with plenty of talent in the midfield, as the TFC hopefully will have to go up against Dylan Carreiro, Hanson Boakai, Michael Petrasso, Jeremy Gagnon-Lapare, Kianz Froese, Marco Bustos and potentially Fraser Aird. That's some tough company if Aparicio wants a starting position, not to mention a spot on the team at all as they attempt to qualify for the 2015 U20 World Cup.
He has a long way to go before he has any sort of place of significance with his club or country. But Aparicio has age on his side, and plenty of talent as well. Next season he will have an opportunity to make that path a heck of a lot shorter.