If you do not already know the name Molham Babouli it might be time to get used to hearing it. The Canadian forward may be only two games in to his USL career but he has done enough to push his stock to another level.
After leading League 1 Ontario in scoring by a comfortable margin last season and finding the back of the net on a regular basis in the OCAA for Sheridan he is now showing that he can still be an impact player against professional opponents. His goal scoring has continued with one goal in two games but what has really impressed is just how much the rest of his game has developed.
When Jason Bent brought him in to training camp for TFCII earlier this year it became clear that for Babouli to continue to rise up the ranks in the club he was going to have to learn to play a different position. With the likes of Jozy Altidore, Bright Dike, and Luke Moore in the first team and Jordan Hamilton on TFCII the club clearly wants their central forwards to play a more physical, holdup role. That is not Babouli's game.
In recent years, Babouli proved that he could make a big impression on a game by living off the shoulder of defenders and using his pace to get in to space. Once he was in space was when his real talent showed as he consistently demonstrated that he was not one to waste a chance. It was one thing to do that against L1O or OCAA defenders though so there was reason to have reservations as to just what the ceiling might be for Babouli.
Coming in to the year the big knock on Babouli was that he was a relatively raw talent but did not have age on his side. He is now 22-years-old which made him one of the oldest players in TFC's academy system last year. At that age he is behind in terms of development but the good news is that he is now transitioning to the professional ranks at the same age as most college graduates.
For Babouli, to make it to the next level he was likely going to have to progress by leaps and bounds this season to ensure that none of the younger forwards in the academy system move ahead of him in the pecking order. After all, attacking talent is not something that TFC's system is lacking in.
While two games may be a small sample size to make definitive comments on, we have seen enough from Babouli to say that he might just have what it takes to not only excel in his new role but to continue to be an impact player. His move out to more of a wide forward role means he has had to round out his game quickly and so far he has done just that.
His goal in the first match against Charleston was hardly beautiful, but it was a prime example of the sort of work rate that he has displayed through the first two matches.
It was a play where Babouli could have given up at a number of points. Many attackers would have given up on that ball when it looked like it would role comfortably to the Battery keeper but when the keeper did slip the fact that Babouli kept tracking the ball meant he was on location to take advantage of that error. He still had to beat the defender for the ball which he made look easy but even after that he had work to do to finish. He could have gone down to try and win a penalty but instead he shook off the defender took one step towards goal and slotted the ball home calmly before the keeper could make his way back in to position.
Not the most impressive finish of his career but even with the error by the keeper it was still a goal that only came about because of his willingness to keep the play alive when many other forwards would have given up and waited for a better pass to come their way.
While Babouli's effort going forward may be what leads to goals the most important part is the amount of effort that he has shown in tracking back. Early in the season he has been doing a lot more than just creating chances and pushing forward as he has shown a commitment to tracking back and putting in the defensive work that was never part of his game before. It has been impressive considering that defending was not really part of his game prior to this season.
His free kick off the bar against FC Montreal was another impressive display of his attacking talents and will likely be what gets the most people talking about his performance on Saturday but for me that was only secondary. He was putting in tackles, winning the ball back for his team, and creating chances for those around him. He looked like a more complete player than I have ever seen him be in the past.
Those are the little things that are going to help Babouli get to the next level as he continues to round out his game to be more than just a pure goal scorer. The goals and the creative attacking play will always be what will pay the bills for Babouli though and that was again on display against FC Montreal.
There was a moment in the first half where Babouli showed the kind of technical skill is so often lacking in Canadian soccer. He won the ball off a Montreal defender and did a quick turn on the ball to create space for himself and if not for Mark-Anthony Kaye's effort going over the bar it could have been one of the nicest assists you could ask for.
He did get his assist shortly after that though as it was Babouli's free kick from just inside the Montreal half that found its way in to the danger area and on to the foot of Marcos Nunes. It was an impressive ball from Babouli to get it in behind the defenders with pace but keeping it out of the range of the keeper. He made the job easy for Nunes who just needed to put a good touch on it to turn it in to the back of the net.
It was a complete performance from a player who I have criticized in the past for not being a complete enough player to succeed in the higher ranks. Through two games though Babouli has been proving me wrong on a regular basis and I am just about ready to fully board the hype train (I think Duane Rollins is the conductor of the train). If he continues to put in performances like the one he had on Saturday USL is just going to be a stepping stone and he might find himself in the first team before next season.
If and when Babouli does make his way to the MLS side he will be a very good advertisement for just what kind of talent pathway could now be in place at the club with players getting good development in L1O and now USL.