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Who TFC Were: A talented youth, where is Mississauga-native Raheem Edwards?

The young Canadian turned heads with Toronto FC, but has struggled to cement his place since

MLS: Orlando City SC at Toronto FC Gerry Angus-USA TODAY Sports

Every year, a few youngsters are signed either from TFC II or straight from the academy to potentially fill some backup roles. In the past, most of the players never played, or barely played, meaning that they never truly got a chance to make much of an impact on how the season played out for the Reds.

There are a few young players, however, who have made good on some of the few chances that they’ve received over the course of their time with Toronto FC, and Raheem Edwards is one of them.

The Mississauga man (born in Toronto though) did tend to have a bit of an unconventonal rise to becoming one of the top youngsters at the club. He went to Sheridan College in Brampton playing soccer there, as well as playing briefly for ANB Futbol in League1 Ontario. He then signed for Toronto FC II in 2015 and played with the USL side until the end of 2016 (scoring 8 goals in 42 appearances). Noticed by those at the big club, the speedy youngster signed a permanent contract with the first team in March of 2017.

MLS: Toronto FC at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

While he signed his first permanent deal in 2017, he actually did sign a short-term contract in mid 2016 to play some Canadian Championship Games with Toronto FC, making an appearance off the bench, playing for just 2 minutes.

When he signed for Toronto FC, I didn’t really have much of an opinion on his signing. I liked the fact that TFC was signing some youth players, but as always, I was skeptical about whether or not we would actually play him. At the time, it felt as if the coaching staff at the Reds, along with the technical department, liked to sign a few young Canadians to serve as injury-reinforcements, but never really gave them a fair chance to shine and become a mainstay in the squad like Jonathan Osorio has done, especially over the past few years.

Edwards generally seemed to be more of a left winger or a left midfielder, but his first real chance to prove himself came in a rather unconventional position: left wing-back. He made his first appearance as a permanent member of the club against the Vancouver Whitecaps, coming off the bench and getting an assist—which I believe is what really kicked off his career as it gave him the confidence early to play well with the team and take chances later on in his career.

Despite being utilized as a left defender (with some offensive and play making responsibilities), he performed well under the role. Yes, his defensive skills may have not been amazing, but they were decent, and he really helped drive the attacking play forward whenever TFC got the ball. This was positive as I’ve found in past years the Reds have trouble moving the ball in transition in a faster, more fluid style.

Raheem Edwards would continue to play well for the team, making noise whenever he had the chance to play. He would eventually score his first and only goal for the club in July of 2017, in a 4-0 thrashing of New York City FC at BMO Field.

Edwards would go on to earn 22 appearances, with 10 of those being starts, and playing a total of 1,064 minutes over the course of the season (including the playoffs). He also notched six assists over that period of time, good enough for a goal or an assist every 152 minutes—pretty good in your first full season as a pro player.

As I alluded to at the start, the reason why Edwards started getting chances with the senior club in the first place is that there were various injuries that amounted across the team over the course of the 2017 season. For example, players like Drew Moor would get injured, and being that TFC were playing a 3-5-2 formation, Justin Morrow—who would normally play left wing-back—would slot into the left centre-back position where he’d fill in admirably. If any other player was the first string left wing-back in that position other than Morrow, Raheem Edwards would’ve taken over that position completely. But Morrow was playing so well both on the defensive and offensive end that Edwards could really only play (in the left wing back position) when the U.S. international was injured or he was shifted the left centre-back position.

TFC had tremendous depth in the left-back position in their treble-winning 2017 season, let alone the depth on their whole team. This is just an example of why TFC coach Greg Vanney’s old words of the 2017 squad being the ‘deepest team in MLS history’ hold so true — because even when our star players would get injured, there was always a ‘depth’ player like Raheem Edwards who would slot in. These ‘depth’ players in 2017 had the quality of starter on any other team in MLS, just demonstrating how good TFC was just over two years ago. The 2017 season was definitely the ‘good old days’.

Sadly, the Mississauga-native Edwards would go on to leave the club earlier than most TFC fans would’ve liked, as he was drafted 5th overall in the 2017 MLS Expansion draft by LAFC. He was subsequently traded, along with 4th-round pick Jukka Raitala to 401 rivals Montreal Impact in exchange for Impact captain and star defender Laurent Ciman. As a side note, Ciman was not too happy about the transfer for a variety of reasons, and would eventually go on to be transferred to Dijon in Ligue 1 in France—to only come back to MLS to play for who else than Toronto FC.

MLS: Montreal Impact at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

In the meantime, Edwards would try to ply his trade in Montreal, rivals of TFC, but things weren’t working out for the Canadian youngster. He was being coached (at the time) by new Impact manager Remi Garde (who is no longer with the club), who seemed unable to figure out how Edwards would play best. From my viewpoint, anyone who would trade for a player, let alone trade a club favourite, should probably know how they play best, but it seemed as if he hadn’t.

The reason why I say this is that Edwards was a fairly one-footed player, mainly using his left foot. He wasn’t one to cut in too much, rather opting to cross from the left flank to hopefully get assist, and occasionally run in behind to potentially take his chances to score. Garde decided to play Edwards primarily on the right side in hopes that the left-footed winger would perform, however, when he didnt, the manager would then criticize him for not trying enough. With all due respect to Garde, if he had tried just a little harder to do his homework on Edwards prior to signing him in a big trade, he would’ve possibly been able to get a lot more out of him. That wasn’t to be though.

Just halfway through the season in 2018, Montreal Impact traded Edwards to the Chicago Fire in exchange for $400,000 in Targeted Allocation Money. The Fire were in need of a decent attacking player as their attack lacked creativity after their star man (and winger) David Accam in the offseason for a combined total of $1.2 million in allocation money to Philadelphia Union. Accam (who is now at Nashville SC) was arguably the best player at the Fire at the time, and created many of their attacks, so they desperately needed talent up front.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Chicago Fire Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

How has Edwards’ time fared at the Fire? Not very well. He made 13 appearances in 2018 for Chicago, scoring just one goal and adding two assists in over 916 minutes. In 2019, he only played 4 games for the Men in Red, scoring one goal in 244 minutes with the club. There’s a good chance his time could be over,with Chicago Fire, but given the fact that there’s new staff running the club, including a new technical director and coach, perhaps he will be given a second chance.

The 24-year-old was recently named to the Fire’s 2020 preseason roster, where it is expected that he’ll earn a spot on the revamped MLS side.

Edwards was a fun player to have at the Reds. He was one of the first players to be signed from TFC II and really make a difference with the first team. Keep in mind, he didn’t even go through TFC’s full youth system, which is also something to note in contrast to other young Canadians like Doneil Henry or Ashtone Morgan who have been successful at the Reds.

He really was the type of player who, like Michael Bradley, drove the play forward, and helped to set the intensity of the game. While many players had more of a passive style to attack, Edwards offered a different dimension to TFC’s going forward that most players did not have. He was always running down the left flank, trying to win the ball and then take it forward to cross into the box in a hopes of getting a goal.

Overall, Edwards had success while playing for Toronto FC, but hasn’t played the greatest since leaving; I wouldn’t say it’s completely his fault though, as there were issues that were more so out of his control that have hampered his career as of late. Hopefully, with a new season on the horizon—in a new decade—we will once again witness the qualities and skills that Raheem Edwards put on display back in 2017. He clearly has the talent to be special player, he just needs to show it.

MLS: New York City FC at Toronto FC
Raheem Edwards celebrating his first goal for TFC.
Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports