TORONTO, Canada— Finding minutes for their young players has never been a bigger challenge for Toronto FC than during the 2020 season.
Financial constraints, border closures, and several other factors out of the club’s control led to the decision to pull TFC II from the USL League One for the time being with intentions of returning in 2021.
With the main source of minutes for prospects out of the picture, the front office has had to be creative in order to find opportunities for the future generation to hone their skills.
Between the Canadian Premier League (CanPL), USL, and various European competitions, an abundance of budding TFC talent are currently plying their trade elsewhere in an effort to gain the experience necessary to eventually make the jump to the first team on a full-time basis.
As many of the loan spells begin to come to a close, we at WTR bring you an update on how some of the club’s brightest youngsters are doing during their time away from the Reds.
Noble Okello- CDM
DOB: July 20, 2000 | Birthplace: Toronto, Ontario Nationality: Canadian | Current Club: On loan with HB Køge (Danish 1st Division) Age: 20
Just a day after his 20th birthday, Noble Okello made his MLS debut in a 0-0 draw with the New England Revolution on July 21, coming off the bench with 22 minutes remaining in TFC’s final group stage match of the MLS is Back Tournament.
Two months and nine games later, Okello had not played another minute for the Reds before the club made the decision on September 28 to loan the academy product to Danish First Division side HB KØGE for the remainder of 2020.
The six-foot-five holding midfielder has since quickly adapted to his new side and within a month has become a key contributor. After settling for substitute appearances in early days in Denmark (scoring off the bench as a substitute on his debut), Okello has become one of the first names on the team sheet for KØGE of late.
The Canadian international has started three straight league contests while making nine total appearances in all competitions with the latest Danish Cup fixture against FC Midtjylland perhaps the toughest date.
Midtjylland are currently in Group D of the UEFA Champions League alongside Liverpool, Atalanta, and Ajax. To battle against a club who’ve faced off recently against some of European football’s best is invaluable experience for Okello.
Se eller gense målene fra HB Køges sejr på 2-0 over FC Helsingør onsdag aften. pic.twitter.com/XDddK48B7G— HB KØGE (@hbkogedk) October 1, 2020
For both his club and international career, the need to play regular first-team minutes was an essential one in the Toronto native’s development. With days numbered for Michael Bradley in the heart of the TFC midfield and questions over the long-term future of Liam Fraser with the club, Okello is as true a candidate as any to see a serious boost in playing time in 2021 despite the emergence of Ralph Priso, assuming the 20 year old returns to the Reds first team next year.
Rocco Romeo - CB
DOB: March 25, 2000 | Birthplace: Richmond Hill, Ontario Nationality: Canadian | Current Club: On loan with HB Køge (Danish 1st Division) | Age: 20
Okello joins fellow TFC academy product Rocco Romeo with Køge as the latter is on his second loan stint with the Danish side in as many years.
After signing a first-team deal with the Reds back in January, Romeo spent the majority of the first half of 2020 on the shelf with limited matches for the TFC senior side and the cancellation of the TFC II season. As a result, heading back overseas proved the best option to get the young defender some meaningful minutes, leading to the decision to return Romeo to Denmark once again in August.
The 6’4 centre-back has slotted seamlessly back into the Køge rotation, picking up seven appearances since rejoining the club back in August. Overall, he’s made 15 appearances for the club, scoring his first goal for them in a 4-0 victory in Danish Cup action last month.
TFC’s current depth at centre-back could use a shot of youth with both Laurent Ciman (35) and Omar Gonzalez (32) on the wrong side of 30. If Romeo can continue to get his reps in at the senior level and gain the type of ball-playing confidence Greg Vanney’s system requires, he could be a genuine option at the back alongside Julian Dunn for the Reds in the near future.
Julian Dunn - CB
DOB: July 11, 2000 | Birthplace: Toronto, Ontario Nationality: Canadian | Current Club: Toronto FC (Completed loan with Valour FC) | Age: 20
At just 17 years old, Julian Dunn made a pair of appearances in MLS for Toronto FC in the early goings of the 2018 regular season. Since then, Dunn has had to settle for TFC II to get a game, making 30 appearances in the USL in the past three years.
With no TFC II season and the centre-back congestion in the senior squad, the Reds needed to find a way to get the promising young defender some minutes in 2020. The CPL finding a way to salvage a season with the ‘Island Games’ bubble format presented an opportunity to get the 20 year old playing time in his native country neither Dunn nor the club could pass on.
The Canadian youth international joined Winnipeg outfit Valour FC on loan for the tournament where he started all seven of his temporary side’s matches, the only member of the squad to do so. He also ranked top-ten league-wide during the competition in several defensive categories including blocks, clearances, and aerial duels won despite Valour failing to advance beyond the group stage. His collective efforts earned him CPL under-21 player of the year honours.
Although the level of competition within the CPL might not match that of MLS, if The Island Games are any indication, Dunn has shown he’s more than capable of playing regular and reliable minutes when he’s in good form and focusing on the defensive side of things first and foremost. The question remains whether he can find that consistency at the next level.
He has returned to training with the first team following the conclusion of the Island Games, and with the quickly ageing TFC backline in mind, perhaps the Toronto native will get the chance to once again represent his hometown sooner rather than later.
Jordan Perruzza - FW
DOB: January 16, 2001 | Birthplace: Toronto, Ontario Nationality: Canadian/Italian | Current Club: On loan with San Antonio FC (USL Championship) | Age: 19
Rounding out the list of first-team signed guys is Italian and Canadian eligible youngster Jordan Perruzza.
While his contract with the big club doesn’t officially kick in until this coming January, the 19-year-old has turned many Reds supporters heads already during his time with TFC II. With the young reds on the shelf, for the time being, the Toronto-born teenager was in search of some much needed minutes in 2020. With that in mind, Perruzza was loaned by TFC to USL outfit San Antonio FC back in September.
Known for his wand of a left foot and goal-scoring prowess, the flashy forward did not disappoint in his time in Texas, scoring three goals in six total appearances for the club, with none more impressive than his first for SAFC.
Fresh off an impressive 15-goal campaign with TFC II last year, 2020 has been a slight stall in the development of one of the Reds more exciting prospects. With the potential for first-team minutes in the new year, add Perruzza’s name high on the ever-growing list of young guns within the TFC system.
Robert Boskovich - CB
DOB: July 1, 1998 | Birthplace: Mississauga, Ontario Nationality: Canadian | Current Club: Toronto FC II (Completed loan with Cavalry FC) | Age: 22
Robert Boskovich joined Dunn as TFC II defenders to head for the CPL to get minutes this year, heading out on loan to Cavalry FC for the Island Games.
The former Ryerson Ram made six appearances and played a total of 479 minutes, nearly scoring a rare goal in his short stint with the Calgary outfit in Charlottetown as his side were eliminated in the knockout stages of the competition.
Brought in to pair with Dominick Zator at Cavalry, Boskovich was largely viewed as a like-for-like replacement for Joel Waterman who moved on from Cavalry to find plenty of early success in MLS with the Montreal Impact.
At just 22 years old, both Boskovich and TFC will be hoping his path can resemble Waterman’s in the not so distant future.
Terique Mohammed - LB
DOB: January 27, 2000 | Birthplace: Toronto, Ontario Nationality: Canadian | Current Club: Toronto FC II (Completed loan with FC Edmonton) | Age: 20
Lining up on the other end of the Al Classico derby during the Island Games was Boskovich’s TFC II teammate Terique Mohammed.
The 20-year-old made five appearances and played 303 minutes for FC Edmonton as the Eddies failed to win any of their seven contests in PEI. While Mohammed showed signs of promise in the CPL despite the club’s shortcomings, his most memorable moment of the tournament came in the form of a sending off.
RED CARD | #CanPL @FCEdmontonNow is reduced to 10 men as Terique Mohammed is sent off for a reckless tackle right at the start of the 2nd half— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) August 21, 2020
Can @CPLCavalryFC capitalize even further in #AlClassico now?
: https://t.co/S1fIuqGe5w#IslandGames pic.twitter.com/3JqT8cBWx4
Although the red shouldn’t define the left back’s loan spell, there are signs that the growing pains of professional football aren’t in the past for Mohammed, who was in serious contention for the team’s fourth fullback spot this past offseason. With the sudden depth TFC has at full-back, particularly with the acquisition of Tony Gallacher, the Reds should be in no rush to force the Canadian international into the senior lineup before he’s ready.
Dante Campbell - RB/MF
DOB: May 22, 1999 | Birthplace: Etobicoke, Ontario Nationality: Canadian | Current Club: Toronto FC II (Completed loan with Valour FC) | Age: 21
Dante Campbell joined Dunn to form a duo of TFC II players suiting up for Valour this season. The Etobicoke native, however, played a smaller part than that of the U-21 player of the year, amassing 227 minutes played in five appearances.
Getting starts at both right-back and center defensive midfield, Campbell got exactly what the club had hoped for when they sent him to the CPL: meaningful minutes in a competitive environment close to home.
Valour was a much improved side in 2020 compared to the group which finished dead last in the Spring portion of last season. A big part of the progression was the stability of their defensive group which benefited greatly from the performance of both Campbell and Dunn.
Under the assumption that TFC II is back in operation next year, the 21 year old is likely to be back in Red in 2021 having made 49 appearances for the reserve side so far in his young career.
Nyal Higgins - CB
DOB: January 19th, 1998 | Birthplace: Ajax, Ontario Nationality: Canadian | Current Club: On loan with Nyköpings BIS (Swedish 3rd Division) | Age: 22
As one of the Reds two first-round picks in this past year’s MLS SuperDraft, Nyal Higgins was selected 19th overall, six spots higher than Ifunanyachi Achara.
After spending preseason training with TFC II, Higgins much like many other young Reds found himself without a side to suit up for. The club made sure the 22 year old got the experience he needed when they loaned him to Swedish 3rd Division side Nyköpings Bis back in August.
Nyköpings have won just twice in 26 matches this season and sit in the basement of the Swedish 3rd division table with 10 points. The club has just three matches remaining this campaign and relegation appears to be inevitable. Fortunately for the young defender, there’s light at the end of the tunnel as his loan spell ends with the conclusion of the season over in Sweden.
As the only name on the list yet to feature for Toronto, Higgins has made the most of his opportunity overseas despite his club’s shortcomings, making 19 appearances in all competitions and scoring once. The former Syracuse defender is no stranger to major minutes, starting 19 times for the Orange in his senior year before entering the MLS draft.
If and when the Ajax native gets his chance to break through at the senior level, here’s to hoping his first game in a TFC shirt matches the home opener Achara dominated back in March.
Matthew Srbely - MF
DOB: November 29th, 1998 | Birthplace: Brampton, Ontario Nationality: Canadian | Current Club: On loan with Thisted FC (Danish 2nd Division) | Age: 21
As creative a midfielder as TFC II had in 2019, Matthew Srbely scored four times and picked up a team-best five assists despite playing in just 18 fixtures last season.
The 21-year-old had played and trained exclusively under the TFC umbrella since joining the academy in 2013 before the club sent Srbely on loan to Thisted FC in the third tier of Danish football back in September.
Described in a 2018 WTR scouting report by our own James Grossi, the Brampton native is “a tenacious two-way midfielder, Srbely has shown that intense work-rate, earning the praise of his teammates, while also displaying an ability to get forward into the attack.”
Since landing in Denmark, the academy product has had limited opportunity to demonstrate that tenacity and work-rate, making just five appearances for a cumulative 101 minutes played thus far.
Opportunities to make an impression overseas might be coming to a close soon with his loan expiring at the end of the calendar year while Thisted’s upcoming fixtures have also been postponed over COVID concerns in the region.
For a player as highly regarded within the organization as Srbely, any minutes in a professional environment, especially one overseas, should be viewed as a success as the young playmaker surely has his eyes set on 2021 and another chance to crack the senior squad.
Fito Ovalle - MF
DOB: April 28th, 1997 | Birthplace: Temuco, Chile Nationality: Chilean | Current Club: Toronto FC II (Completed loan with Forward Madison FC) | Age: 23
At 23 years old, Fito Ovalle was one of the leaders on a young Reds roster last season, making 22 appearances in the TFC II midfield, often wearing the captain’s armband.
With an opportunity to don one of the sharper uniforms in North American footy, Ovalle joined USL club Forward Madison FC in early September to see out the 2020 season.
Taking a page out of Okello’s book, Ovalle wasted no time finding the back of the net for Forward Madison, scoring a long-range golazo on his debut. Overall, the Chilean scored once in nine appearances for a total of 694 minutes played with the Wisconsin side.
Known more for his prowess in deep-lying positions than goal-scoring, the former Real Salt Lake man is an interesting option to provide a different dynamic to the Reds midfield, but for now, Ovalle is likely to slot into the XI with TFC II once again in 2021 assuming the USL season goes ahead as planned.
Eric Klenofsky - GK
DOB: September 21st, 1994 | Birthplace: Lincoln Park, New Jersey Nationality: American | Current Club: Toronto FC II (Completed loan with Tacoma Defiance) | Age: 26
On a list largely made up of youngsters with little pro experience, 26-year-old keeper Eric Klenofsky is the journeyman of the bunch.
Klenofsky was also the oldest member of TFC II last season after Tsubasa Endoh (27) was called up to the senior side by Greg Vanney early in the spring and never looked back.
Making nine appearances in net for TFC II during the 2019 season, the New Jersey native had the most starts for the reserve club last year, one more than now-first team member Kevin Silva. With Silva getting the nod to fill in for an injured Alex Bono, the club decided to loan Klenofsky to the Tacoma Defiance in the USL Championship.
With the USL season now concluded, the former D.C. United draft pick made eight appearances for Tacoma, keeping a clean sheet on one occasion while conceding 16 times as the Defiance failed to reach the postseason.
As the Reds begin to figure out how their first-team will look in 2021 during the off-season, decisions over which reserve players will be kept on should become clearer. If they decide to retain Klenofsky’s rights, they’ll be getting a keeper with plenty of past experience and willing attitude.