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Toronto 2015 Top 30 Countdown #27: Chris Mannella

Coming in at #27 in the Countdown, is TFC II Captain, Chris Mannella, up three spots from last season's rankings

Mannella hunting out the ball against the Cuban midfield in CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying
Mannella hunting out the ball against the Cuban midfield in CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

It was a busy season for the now 21-year old Mannella, splitting him time between various sides. He did make his first team pro debut, appearing in both International Friendlies this summer – against Manchester City FC and Sunderland AFC – though, lamentably, he is still yet to make a league appearance for Toronto FC.

Average Rating: 27.9

Highest Rating: 25

Lowest Rating: 30

Signed to a homegrown contract in the latter half of the 2014 season (September 15, to be exact, hence his lowly ranking) – the tenth in TFC's history – Mannella was one of a handful of players loaned to the nascent USL PRO side, TFC II, in March, and was immediately named club captain by Jason Bent, a day ahead of their debut loss at the Charleston Battery.

Mannella would feature in 16 of the side's 28 matches, registering his first professional goal on August 12, against bitter rivals, FC Montreal – a losing effort at the Impact's Stade Saputo-adjacent Turf Pitch. A scrappy, stoppage-time goal, no doubt, but it never hurts for a Toronto player to break the ice against a Montreal-based side.

Emerging as a tenacious, hard-working central midfielder, Mannella, spent large chunks of the season representing Canada at the international level, hence the limited action with TFC II.

He played in all three matches during July's Pan American Games in Toronto, and in four of Canada's five matches in October's CONCACAF Men's Olympic Qualifying, guiding them to a fourth-placed finish and giving him a taste of some MLS stadiums – Kansas City, Colorado, and Salt Lake.

Mannella also made his first team debut for Canada back in January against Iceland, as Benito Floro probed the player pool ahead of the Gold Cup and World Cup Qualifying.

Anthony Gallo interviewed the midfielder earlier this year for WTR – check out his One-on-One with Mannella from July.

He may not have familiarized himself with the pitch at the MLS level, but he was included in Greg Vanney's match-day eighteen on nine occasions – eight more than in 2014. While definitely not the same as playing, gaining a familiarity with the routine of travel and preparation required at that level is, nevertheless, a valuable experience.

So how does one truly evaluate a player straddling that expanse between the youth game and the pro level?

Mannella has been with the club since 2009, rising up the ranks over the seasons, but it was a moment in 2012 that sticks in the mind.

It was a reserve match, memory fades as to whom it was against, but the predominant recollection was the booming voice of Adrian Cann, recovering from an ACL injury, shouting 'Chris! Chris!" followed by some instruction or another, helping the young then right-back through the match.

Mannella looked tiny out there against the reserves of MLS.

Looking at him now, whenever the chance to see him play has arisen, he no longer looks like a boy amongst men. He is composed and confident. And despite there being a glut of players ahead of him in the central midfield positions – think Michael Bradley, Benoit Cheyrou, Collen Warner, Jonathan Osorio, Marky Delgado, and Jay Chapman – he should be considered the most MLS-ready of the young products kicking around the TFC system.

One can't help but think, given the struggles that the club had at the right-back position, that maybe he could have done a serviceable, defense-first job plugging that gap. But perhaps that is too much to ask of a young player. With such a deep roster ahead of him in his preferred position, first team minutes there may continue to prove elusive.

Though a premature comparison, looking at him, his game, and his manner through squinted-eyes, there is a feel of a Paul Stalteri in how he moves about and carries himself on the pitch.

For a Canadian, that is about the highest praise one can offer.