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Nick Hagglund Q&A: On Toronto FC’s impressive defence, a changing club and jumping

The centre-back reveals the secret behind his set-piece prowess.

Nick Hagglund Toronto FC Sporting Kansas City 31032017 Tagwa Moyo / Waking the Red

Waking the Red had the chance to catch up with Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund after training on Wednesday. We talked about a few different topics, so what follows is a transcript of our conversation lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Must be nice to get some training in in the sun?

“Oh it’s perfect for it, yeah. Gotta get the guns out right now!”

So maybe you’d like a win or two more and some more goals, but from your guys’ perspective at the back end it’s been a pretty good start.

“Yeah. Defence is either there or it’s not and I’m glad the beginning of the year we’re stingy defensively. I think if we can carry that throughout the year and start banging in some goals, I think it’s a good foundation to start the year and as we get going [we’ll] see more goals go in.”

I make it six clean sheets in 11 games since you switched to the 3-5-2 last season. What’s working there?

“I think it’s just… it’s something different. I don’t think a lot of teams are used to playing against it and it allows us to kind of match up with whatever they’re throwing at us. If they’re throwing three attackers, one attacker, we can have four in the back, five in the back. If we need to throw one of the centre-backs into the midfield we can do that as well so it kind of matches up and defuses whatever they’re doing.”

MLS: Sporting KC at Toronto FC Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Do you think you have complementary skill sets in the sense that you have a bit more physicality, Drew [Moor] sits deeper and so on?

“I think actually our similarities are what makes us cohesive. I think we’re all reliable, we’re not going to do anything fancy, we’re kind of all hard workers and we communicate well, and I think those are the things that get us clean sheets.”

How are your relationships off the field? Are you guys close in terms of road trips and so on?

“Yeah, for sure. Me and Drew room together on road trips and then me and Drew and [Eriq Zavaleta] will ride in to training together, so yeah… we spend a lot of time together!”

You seem to take a bit more of a role in bringing the ball out of defence, like we saw down the left wing with the cross for Jonathan Osorio on Friday. Is that something that’s new to you or have you always been like that?

“I would say it’s not… I don’t really know exactly how to answer! If I have to do it, if Michael [Bradley] drops back and I need to play more like a left-back and kind of get up and down, I can do that as well. I’ve played left-back before so it’s not foreign to me. Is it something I’m used to? No, but it’s a skill set I definitely need to work on.”

Do you have any players that you watch and admire, whether it’s elsewhere in MLS or in Europe?

“I love how Sergio Ramos plays. I think I would love to play like him - I think we have a lot of similar attributes of being aggressive and getting on attacking set pieces! Just a hard worker, constantly going after things and being smart with the ball, those are things that I like to watch.”

You’ve come up with some pretty big moments since joining the club in terms of set pieces as well. Is that something you work on a lot?

“So, in like, middle school, I played volleyball and I got good at jumping, and ever since I kind of learned how to jump high I’ve loved getting on set pieces. I love just just getting in there and putting my head in places that I shouldn’t, probably, and seeing if I can get my head on the end of something.”

Obviously you’ve got Alex [Bono] going in goal on Saturday. Is there much difference in the way you operate between the two keepers, stylistically or anything else?

“No, I don’t think so. We just trust them to make the saves when we need to be bailed out. Both of them are great shot stoppers. Hopefully we don’t give up too many shots and hopefully they don’t have to do too much work but when they’re called upon we trust both.”

He seems pretty communicative for a young guy as well, just from watching training.

“For sure. He doesn’t seem like a young player, especially [after] his run last year that he had in goal - I think ever since then he’s kind of stepped into a role of knowing how good he can be and so he’s matured a ton.”

This is your fourth season - has much changed in terms of the club and how it feels to be a Toronto FC player?

“Yeah, for sure. Coming into my first year it was kind of like, ‘oh, you’re going to Toronto’ kind of thing… ‘good luck!’ And now I think you see players wanting to come here, free agents wanting to come to play for Toronto. We see the stadium and the changes that they’ve made to this club in the past couple of years - they want to be the best organization in MLS and they want everyone to chase them, and I think that goes from the team to the organization to the front office. I think everything about this club has become bigger and better.”

MLS: Toronto FC at Philadelphia Union Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

How do you like the city, now you’re pretty settled?

“Oh, it’s amazing. It’s for sure one of my favourite cities to ever be in. Even just visiting other cities and stuff like this, Toronto offers something that… I don’t know, you don’t see much anywhere [else]. The amount of culture, the amount of just… fun on King Street to Queen Street, there’s always something to do, something going on.”

Do you have any favourite spots in terms of eating or just going out for a day?

“Eating… OK, so my favourite restaurant is The Chase. But I’m a big fan of Electric Mud, I like Porchetta… pretty much anywhere on Queen Street or Ossington is where I like to hang out.”

Are you planning to see Mark Bloom on the weekend?

“Yeah yeah, for sure! We’ve been texting each other, we’re planning on going somewhere after the game and maybe seeing each other. We used to go get Jimmy’s Coffee all the time together so yeah, I’m really excited to see him again.”