Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Little was expected initially of Nick Hagglund when he joined Toronto FC’s squad for preseason training in late January.
The rookie centerback out of Xavier University, who TFC used the tenth overall pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft on, found himself quickly buried down the depth chart, behind fellow centerbacks Steven Caldwell, Doneil Henry, and veteran defender Englishman Bradley Orr.
But due to suspensions and injuries, Hagglund was given his debut one month into the season in his home state against the Columbus Crew, putting in a strong performance in a 2-0 victory. Six weeks later, Hagglund was reinserted in the lineup, leading TFC to another shutout win, and has pretty much remained in the starting lineup ever since.
“I didn’t really have any expectations (coming into the season),” Hagglund told SBI following the match. “I heard a lot of horror stories from rookies coming in and getting dropped and what not so I just got excited about the day-by-day, enjoying playing soccer, being focused on that. Suddenly, people get hurt, you’re in the game, and you just have to perform.”
Last Saturday, Hagglund reprised his debut performance with more than 100 friends and family members from his hometown of Cincinnati in attendance at Crew Stadium, as TFC swept the season series against the Crew with a 3-2 victory.
The former Big East Player of the Year’s performances both in games and in training have impressed teammates and coaches, including both Michael Bradley and head coach Ryan Nelsen, who see a bright future in Hagglund.
“You wouldn’t think he’s a rookie out there,” said Nelsen. “He’s an extremely good athlete, he’s still learning the game, he’s still got so much growth, so much to even get better, which is the great, exciting thing as he develops as a young professional.”
“As a young guy he’s come in and done a really good job of establishing himself pretty quickly,” Bradley commented. “For a young guy he competes incredibly well, he wants to learn, he comes every day ready to train and ready to push himself, and as a centerback he has very good starting points. If he can continue to push himself and can continue to get better, as I know he will, he has a bright future.”
The praise and support from veterans on the team and his peers has given Hagglund the necessary confidence to keep improving as the year goes along. And with 12 starts in 14 games played for a playoff contender, Hagglund is proving that he belongs in MLS.
“I think I questioned (whether I belonged) coming in,” Hagglund said. “I knew I had talent but I was just (thinking) ‘I don’t know if I’m going to get my shot, or what’s going to happen (to me)’. I think I proved to myself and people around me that I belong in MLS and I’m here to say.”