Marky Delgado blends in. It occurred to me this week that despite heading down to Toronto FC’s locker room for interviews after 10 of their 11 home games in MLS this season, I could not so much as tell you which one of the three walls his stall is on.
The 22-year-old midfielder - from the outside looking in, at least - appears to be one of the quieter members of the TFC squad. He is not often the subject of those scrums with reporters and at 5’ 9” is not physically imposing (when Jozy Altidore or Michael Bradley stride across the floor, you notice), either.
But Delgado’s relative reclusiveness should not be confused with timidity.
Whereas certain other footballers put on outward displays of self-confidence that can, at times, betray their inner insecurity, Delgado shows little desire to speak when he is not asked to. When he does, though, there is a soft assurance about him.
This manifested itself in two different ways when I spoke to him last week, a few days before Toronto beat New York City FC handily at BMO Field.
The first example was when I commented that Delgado’s game seemed to complement Bradley and Victor Vazquez’s well, and asked him how he would describe his role within the midfield.
His response was almost comically understated. “Just that man to play to to get it to the next person, really,” he said. “Just to bounce off, you know.”
He then started talking about his teammates’ qualities instead. Delgado evidently does not see much need to build himself or his importance up.
The second example, however, demonstrated the conviction he has in his own ability in a much different way.
When I asked Delgado what his next goal was now that he has nailed down a place in TFC’s starting lineup, he replied without a moment’s hesitation: “National team.”
There was no sense of entitlement to how Delgado said it - he went on to wonder aloud whether Bruce Arena had ever noticed him while they were both in Carson, California, during Delgado’s time with Chivas USA and Arena’s with the LA Galaxy - but it was clear he did not see it as a long shot, either.
And it isn’t. Delgado is never likely to hit the highlight reels as often as a Kellyn Acosta or Cristian Roldan, and it will take him longer to work his way into Arena’s plans. But a player who oils a very effective Toronto machine as he does, who makes his teammates look better, will not go unnoticed forever.
That we are even having the conversation represents remarkable progress for a player who was passed on by 13 clubs before Toronto picked him in the 2014 dispersal draft following the collapse of Chivas USA. Seven of those teams declined to even make a pick and of the six other players taken, only Tommy McNamara has played more MLS games than Delgado since (and probably not for long).
Delgado’s biggest step forward this year has been on the defensive side of the ball. Among Toronto players to have logged 500 minutes in MLS games, he ranks second on the team in tackles per 90 minutes (2.99) and third in interceptions (1.62).
“[I’ve been] really focusing on the defensive part - that’s what the coaches have been telling me to work on, the defensive part of my game, so I’ve really been trying to focus on that and narrow down on that,” he said.
By improving his play off the ball, Delgado has snuck ahead of Jonathan Osorio - who has never quite developed that side of his game to the same extent - and created a platform from which he can show that he is a more impactful player in possession than Will Johnson was while being more disciplined and dependable than Armando Cooper.
Delgado (29.76) is just about level with Vazquez (29.9) in terms of successful passes in the opposition half per 90 minutes. He is less likely to play the difficult, final ball than the Catalan, but plays a vital role in shifting opposition defences around and building up the tempo of Toronto’s attacks by moving the ball quickly.
Learning from a player schooled at Barcelona’s famous academy has certainly been useful for someone who names Xavi and Andres Iniesta as the midfielders he admires most and the Barca ethos as one he “fell in love with”.
“We have some good conversations [about] when he used to play with them,” Delgado said of his new Catalan teammate.
Not three years since that career-defining moment, when his future in MLS was not guaranteed, Delgado looks entirely at home between two midfielders with Champions League experience and is making his new $210,000 contract look a bargain.
“So much has gone on [since the dispersal draft]; making it to the playoffs, making it to the finals... so much has happened at this club that it kind of seems like a long time ago,” he reflected. “I mean, I regret nothing. I’m happy to be here and I look forward to the future.”