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The WTR Top 20, No. 16: Toronto FC could regret losing Raheem Edwards

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The young Canadian was a revelation in 2017.

MLS: Toronto FC at New England Revolution Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

It pains me to write this, knowing that Raheem Edwards is no longer with Toronto FC. Why he was left unprotected during the Expansion Draft is beyond my comprehension. How could any team possibly pass on him? Even without the deal in place between Los Angeles FC and the Montreal Impact, there is no way that Bob Bradley and company would have bypassed No. 44’s amazing value. Once exposed, his selection was guaranteed.

As we all know, Raheem is a young, dynamic, explosive, offensively gifted player. Although this was his first real MLS campaign, he showed poise and skill befitting a more experienced player. He did everything asked of him, and then some; and he did it all for a mere $53,000 per year!

During 2017 he made 21 MLS regular season appearances, clocking just over 1,000 minutes. His six assists during that time bettered the output of some high-profile MLS midfielders — midfielders who played far more than he did and made far more money than him. Players like Carlos Rivas, Darlington Nagbe, Dax McCarty, Miguel Ibarra, Alejandro Bedoya, and Kaka all had lower assist totals. By season’s end, his six helpers tied him with the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Ignacio Piatti. Edwards was a tremendous bargain.

How much of a bargain? Well, let’s just say that none of the above players had to take public transit on game day. That’s right: Raheem was still saving money for a car – taking the TTC to the Kia Training Ground and the GO Train to BMO Field. In today’s world of athletic prima donnas, Edwards’ grounding was (is) a breath of fresh air.

His impact was instantaneous. In his first appearance of 2017, Edwards came off the bench to float the ball onto the head of Jozy Altidore, who then made contact with Victor Vazquez. The result: the game-winning goal against the Vancouver Whitecaps, and Toronto’s first win of the year. In May he came off the bench and, in just 12 minutes, he turned a 1–0 Columbus lead into a 2–1 Toronto win.

MLS: Toronto FC at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

To prove his worth, he entered the game on the right side of the field and played one of the best chip passes of the year onto Tosaint Ricketts’ head. The pass was perfect. It was so sublime that even I could have scored that goal. In the same game he was asked to switch sides and, a few minutes later, he played an incredible cross from the left side that Ricketts (again) easily punched in.

Three days later, against Minnesota, he was the best player on the pitch for the entire first half. He had the Loons flying in all directions and frustrated them to the point of drawing a penalty — all by the 20 minute mark.

Fourteen games into the season, Edwards was tied for the league lead in game-winning assists. Were it not for the fact that he played a handful of minutes in 2016, Edwards would have been a definite contender for the 2017 Rookie of the Year award (MLS really needs to change their definition of “rookie”). When asked about whether he was upset at not being eligible for the award, Edwards showed genuine indifference. For him, the chance to play was reward enough; there was no desire for anything more than excelling at the game itself.

So it has been from the start. Like so many of us, Raheem grew up with the game in his blood. He played locally, with Erin Mills Soccer Club in Mississauga. No big name academies or foreign elite training programs for him. He eschewed the chance to play in the NCAA, preferring to go to Sheridan College. He was guaranteed a starting role with the Bruins, and he wanted to play.

His passion and exuberance were both displayed in the 2014 Canadian Men’s National College Championship. After scoring his second goal of the match, this one in extra time, Raheem celebrated with a cartwheel/back-flip routine and topped it off with a run to the sidelines and an emotional kiss with his girlfriend. That was enough. No need for national attention. No need for anything other than the game. Obviously, his love of the sport, and his drive to achieve, has led to bigger and better things. As a true hometown player, one who watched the Reds as a child, he exemplified (and still exemplifies) the possibility for all young footballers in Ontario. Today, Erin Mills. Tomorrow, who knows?!

MLS: Canadian Championship-Montreal Impact at Toronto FC Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

For Edwards, his “tomorrow” features the confines of Stade Saputo, and the ringing of Montreal’s North Star bell. It seems wrong to look at his Twitter banner and see him draped in black and blue. But, locals can still cheer for him when he dons our country’s red and white.

His call-up to the men’s national team was another feather in his 2017 cap. It was (and is) the next natural step in his evolution. As a Canadian international, he did not see the field as often as he would have liked. But, Edwards’ time will come. We all know that. More importantly, he knows that.

The best way to end this ode to Raheem Edwards is to relive one of his major contributions to the Reds’ treble: the assist on Sebastian Giovinco’s historic goal against Montreal in the Canadian Championship final.

No matter what he does for the Impact in 2018, we will always have the memory of what he did to the Impact in 2017. Raheem, we hardly knew you, but we definitely thank you.