It all started with an expansion draft.
Ahead of Los Angeles FC’s inaugural season in 2018, an MLS Expansion Draft was held to choose 5 players from various MLS sides to join them. As usual, MLS teams can protect a certain amount of players from being picked, while others are left unprotected, whether the franchise likes it or not.
Toronto FC decided to leave Canadian Raheem Edwards off that protected list. They had a lot of great players to protect from Victor Vazquez to Sebastian Giovinco after its championship season, and while the winger/wingback had a standout season in 2017, it wasn’t good enough to warrant him one of the valuable protected slots. So LAFC picked him and immediately flipped Edwards and Columbus Crew player Jukka Raitala (also picked in the draft) to the Montreal Impact in exchange for Laurent Ciman, one of the league’s best defenders at the time, who had possibly his worst season with Montreal in 2017.
Edwards was positioned in TFC’s 3-5-2 formation playing as a left wing-back, going up and down the flanks, setting up plays along the wings. He was a backup player to Justin Morrow who had some of his best years in the 2016 and 2017 seasons, but Edwards would often find himself in the team due to Morrow’s injuries. The Canadian was an invaluable player in his first and only season with the club. His departure left a hole on the left flank of the pitch that the front office would have to fill.
On April 13, 2018, Toronto FC announced two homegrown signings: Aiden Daniels and Julian Dunn-Johnson. They also announced in the same press release that they had signed a 24-year-old Canadian winger named Ryan Telfer, who would not be a homegrown signing given that he never actually played for the TFC Academy, even though he was being signed from Toronto FC II (which pulls a lot of players from the academy). Instead, he predominantly played for York Lions while at York University from 2015-2016, having standout seasons there leading to his professional contract with Toronto’s second team.
It was unknown what kind of role the young Canadian would play, as he was listed in the press release as a ‘midfielder/forward’, but as I learned more about him, it appeared that he was more of a winger, who Greg Vanney would try to convert into a wingback (similar to what he did with Raheem Edwards) to fill the void that had appeared on the left flank. This ‘void’ was exacerbated by the fact that Toronto FC suffered from a wide-scale injury crisis that would compare to the one that was seen at the beginning of the 2021 season.
And Ryan Telfer did his job well. While he wasn’t a magnificent player by any means, he performed decently despite only getting a goal and an assist in 16 appearances (816 minutes) while mostly playing in 2018. The 2018 season was largely a failure of a season for Toronto FC, especially after coming off the best season in the team’s history. They would finish near the bottom of the league even though much of their team was still intact. Most of the new additions failed: Spanish midfielder Ager Aketxe and Dutch fullback Gregory van der Wiel both had negligible impacts whenever they would play. On the other hand, Ryan Telfer, on a minimum salary contract, was able to make a larger impact than those two who were making much more money and bigger reputations.
I don’t remember (he left quite a while ago, so I forgot a bit about him) too much of his defensive qualities; he was a wingback after all. However, I do remember seeing him bomb up the left flank of the pitch with considerable pace that was not matched by many on TFC. Toronto has had some fast players over the years, but isn’t particularly known for having a very fast team overall. He was able to stretch out opposing defences, having decent crossing qualities along with the ability to cut into the box and create different kinds of chances on the occasion. Overall, Telfer was less of a polished talent than Raheem Edwards, but he certainly proved his worth in his first and most well-known season with the Reds.
I don’t think I can write this article without mentioning his sole goal with the club, scoring an insane volley late in the game against Orlando City, putting one past world-class goalkeeper (and former TFC player) Joe Bendik.
As the 2018 injury crisis subsided and Toronto FC moved back to a 4 defender backline at the beginning of the 2019 season, the demand for Telfer’s skill set lessened. While Telfer was a backup for Justin Morrow, he often took up his wing-back position because Morrow was moved to the centre-back position when there was an injury crisis in that position, leaving his wingback spot vacant for Telfer. Over time, more established players like Richie Laryea and Laurent Ciman were signed which provided stiffer competition, so Telfer was loaned to play for York9 FC (now named York United FC) in the Canadian Premier League’s inaugural season. He would make history on April 27, 2019, scoring the first ever goal in Canadian Premier League history against Forge FC at Tim Hortons Field. Ever since he’s ventured away from MLS he’s seemed to have gone back to a more attacking position both in the wings and as a striker.
In January of 2020, Telfer decided to ply his trade in Europe, moving to Cypriot First Division side (similar to Doniel Henry back in the day) Nea Salamis but was unable to make a success of it. He would terminate his contract with the club after they faced significant financial struggles due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He moved back to York9 FC on a permanent deal just a few months later, not scoring any goals until he would move to Atletico Ottawa ahead of the 2021 season. He would play one season with them, scoring 3 goals in 16 appearances. He now plays for Columbus Crew 2 of MLS Next Pro, having yet to make his first appearance.
On the international soccer side of things, Ryan Telfer has had a lot of success on paper while playing for Trinidad & Tobago (he was eligible for T & T and Canada due to him growing up there while being born in Mississauga), scoring 5 goals in 16 games for the Soca Warriors since 2019. It’s sad that Trinidad & Tobago didn’t make it into the Octagonal this time around, because we could’ve watched the glory of Ryan Telfer scoring the winning goal against the US to keep them out of their second straight World Cup. One can only dream of Taylor Twellman’s rant after that!
Overall, Ryan Telfer was a quality winger/wingback who made an impact for Toronto FC but was unfortunately left out of TFC’s plans as they sought out different tactics following a poor season. However, Telfer’s importance was more than the talent that he demonstrated on the pitch — he was a symbolism of something much bigger: what the Canadian Premier League was largely created to facilitate. Ryan Telfer only signed for an MLS side when he was 24 years old, having gone to a Canadian university which makes him unable to go in the SuperDraft (only for American institutions). With this in mind, he was overlooked by many teams despite his talent until he eventually found a home with the Reds.
In today’s day and age, the MLS SuperDraft represents an insurance system for overlooked talents to ply their trade in an environment where they can earn a university degree while being able to still achieve their dream of professional soccer. While most of the talent is garnered by MLS academies, there are still players such as Daryl Dike who were ‘late bloomers’. This system predominantly helps out American youngsters as it services American educational institutions, but there was no comparable system created for Canadian talent in our post-secondary system.
When the CanPL was created, it began the CPL U Sports Draft, similar to MLS. Players were drafted from educational institutions across the country to find the best talent available. It has filled the void for a path to professional soccer for those university soccer players even if the new league isn’t exactly the most glamorous way to go pro. The point I’m trying to make is that if Ryan Telfer had been a bit younger, he may have very well gone pro through the CPL U Sports Draft. Telfer was more than deserving of his opportunity with TFC, however, anyone who has seen the obvious young talent (Tristan Borges, Mo Farsi, etc.) that has graced the CanPL would know that before the league’s creation there was a lot of talent that was missed out on in the Canadian post-secondary system by MLS clubs. Ryan Telfer represents one of the few Canadians who was recognized by an MLS team as a talented player while playing in Canada’s university soccer system. For this, he is a trailblazer for U Sports soccer and a representative of the gaps in Canada’s soccer system that were allowing far too many players to fall through the cracks before the CanPL’s creation.
For the effort I saw him put into each and every game he played, I hope that he has a successful career while he plays in MLS Next Pro, and hopefully pushes himself back into the first division in the future. However, regardless of how the rest of his career in soccer goes, he has cemented himself as a key part of Canadian soccer history, both with U Sports representation and by scoring the first-ever goal in the Canadian Premier League’s history.