MANTIOBA, Canada—Tony Gallacher wasn’t expecting to move to Toronto FC. In fact, the move wasn’t on his radar in any capacity, but the Glasgow-born defender jumped at the opportunity to join Toronto in their hunt for the Supporters’ Shield and in their charge to the MLS Cup Playoffs last season on loan from Liverpool FC.
“It was quite sudden, if I’m being honest with you,” Gallacher told the official Liverpool website in January. “It was on a Sunday they contacted my agent and at first I was like, ‘Have you got the right club there and how has that even came about?’ There wasn’t any rumours flying around but they wanted me in and wanted pretty much a straight yes or no answer.”
“I just felt the chance to play out in the MLS was a great opportunity and there are some massive names out there. So, it was quite an easy decision for me to go out there, despite everything being a little bit chaotic there with the pandemic.”
After arriving in September of last season, the left-back went on to make 10 appearances for TFC, five of them being starts, with the highlight of the 21-year-old Scotland youth international’s time with the club coming through his contribution to a 2-1 victory against the Philadelphia Union in October.
Down 0-1 in the 58th minute, Gallacher picked up the ball on the left flank and burst forward, finding himself in space just wide left of the top of the Union’s penalty area. With his stride only being broken for a brief moment to take survey of the defence he was about to lay waste to, Gallacher whipped in a cross to Ayo Akinola that was so pinpoint and pristine that it would make his compatriot and Liverpool teammate Andy Robertson blush.
Gallacher’s play in his relatively short stint with the club certainly made a strong impression on the Toronto FC brass. In a recent interview with the Liverpool Echo, Jack Dodd, Toronto FC’s head of scouting operations, spoke very highly of the young left-back.
“Everyone at the club loved him. The people around the club, the players, the coaching staff, they all loved him. All the staff have spoken highly of him since, so full credit to him in every aspect really.
“…if the stars align, he is definitely someone we are going to keep our eye on for something more permanent in the future.”
With Justin Morrow now finding himself well within “veteran” territory at this point in his career, and the club not having any other real natural fits at left-back, it would seem like a logical step for Gallacher to make his return
to Toronto to Connecticut to the club, especially with his opportunities at Liverpool seemingly limited.
Despite being a highly rated young defender, he has only managed to make one senior appearance for the reigning Premier League champions, a 5-0 defeat to Aston Villa in their 2019 EFL Carabao Cup Quarter-final tie. His start in the entirely youth-based side was precipitated by the fact that the entire Liverpool first-team was away competing in the Club World Cup.
At 21, Gallacher now finds himself as one of the old heads in the Liverpool Academy and with the likes of Andy Robertson and Konstantinos Tsimikas—both internationals with European competition pedigree—ahead of him in the pecking order for a first team berth, Gallacher may well be thinking of what the next step in his career could be.
The relationship between his parent club and Toronto FC may also point towards this possibility of a reunion alluded to by Dodd.
Dodd, who has been with Toronto FC since 2014, had previously worked as a scout for Liverpool from 2008 until 2013 where he struck up a relationship with current Liverpool assistant sporting director Julian Ward. This relationship has led to TFC being ‘close’ to loaning a ‘couple’ of Liverpool’s youth players in the past, but Dodd said that the club “never managed to get the right guy at the right time”.
Dodd contacted his friend Ward last season after Toronto’s decision to move for cover at left back and was able to scout their U-23 squad, initially looking at Adam Lewis. It was through this scouting that he took note of Gallacher and voiced his delight with the player the club ultimately decided to bring in.
“Tony did well. He was exactly what we hoped for. We brought him in to be cover, but thought he would get some games as well, and that is exactly what happened.
“But equal credit goes to his character. He was a pleasure to deal with from start to finish.”
Dodd also stated his desire to build on the positive experience the loan provided for both clubs. In exchange for the Reds’ defender, Toronto FC was tasked with providing Liverpool with high quality analysis on the player’s performances and development, sports science data, as well as monthly feedback from then head coach Greg Vanney, an approach that left Dodd quite impressed.
“It’s certainly a relationship I hope to build on with Liverpool and I would hope Julian felt the same.”
Perhaps it was Gallacher’s solid play for TFC or this developing connection between the two clubs through Jack Dodd that led to an apparent admiration for the Premiership side from across MLSE.
We prefer Merseyside Red— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 15, 2021
Gallacher isn’t the first player in a top-flight academy to find their route to the first team blocked by big money signings or higher pedigree players, and he won’t be the last. Despite his continued best efforts to make the breakthrough for the Anfield side, Gallacher will know well that he may have to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.
Like his decision to grab his MLS opportunity with Toronto with both hands, the former Falkirk man previously made the most of his chance to go on trial with Liverpool in 2018, fighting through a hamstring injury to impress and earn his move after rumours of interest from Barcelona failed to materialize. If an opportunity to advance his career presents itself once again, he has shown the willingness to step out and make the moment his own.
If Toronto FC can continue to develop relationships like these with higher profile clubs like Liverpool, there are motivated, talented players to be had. Gallacher’s loan and the success of players like Jack Harrison moving to MLS young to then go on and find their move overseas shows the value of Major League Soccer as a venue for young players to get consistent, high-quality, competitive first-team football and Toronto FC is positioning themselves well to be a perfect destination in the league for them to do so.