Ryan Telfer stood still and waited calmly for his teammates to surround him, like he’d seen it all before.
Except he hadn’t. No Toronto FC player on the field had seen less, in fact, of MLS or any other top-level professional soccer league. Telfer is up to 405 minutes played in his first MLS season. Two years ago, he was playing for the York University Lions in a provincial Canadian college league.
On this night, though, Telfer was the lion tamer. He strolled casually across the path of a deep cross from right back Auro, pulled back his favored left foot and drilled a perfectly-struck volley into the net to defeat Orlando City in front of an announced 28,009 people at BMO Field.
And then he stood smiling, knowing he might have pulled Toronto out of a serious crisis with his 87th-minute goal, as if it was all in a day’s work.
“Knowing what has happened before in previous matches, honestly, [you] can’t celebrate until that final whistle has blown,” Telfer said, sitting at his stall in the locker room with his head bowed under the cameras. “To be honest, it hasn’t sunk in yet. I guess when I get time to go home and see this all back on TV, it will just be a fun experience and it will probably all hit me then.”
Telfer is the same on and off the field: humble, selfless and easy to like. It is hard not to root for a player who a year ago at age 23, earned a professional contract out of college in the United Soccer League and could be relied upon week in and week out in difficult circumstances and a range of positions. TFC signed him to an MLS contract in early April and he’s continued to deliver, both as a left back and a left winger.
Orlando City defender Mohamed El-Munir (13) and Toronto FC defender Auro (96) compete for the ball during the first half of an MLS soccer match Friday, May 18. 2018, in Toronto. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto needed these points badly after a two-game losing streak left the team 10 points adrift of the last Eastern Conference playoff spot. Defensively, the Reds were significantly better for the returns of Eriq Zavaleta, Chris Mavinga and Gregory van der Wiel. But with Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore absent, Telfer was a bright spark in an attack that otherwise looked heavily reliant on Victor Vázquez’s moments of magic.
“Just to lift the spirits of the whole entire team and to get three points on the board is a good enough feeling for me,” Telfer insisted. “I’m just happy to be part of the team and help these guys win.”
He finished the match with three shots and two chances created and had too much for Orlando right back — and TFC alumnus — Will Johnson.
“He’s laid back,” Zavaleta said of his new teammate. “He’s definitely a laid back, soft-spoken sort of guy, but I think most players are when they come into a new team — especially young players. I think goals like that will help get your personality out of you.
“He’s a good kid. He works hard and he deserves all the recognition he’s gotten so far.”
It has been evident since Telfer broke into the team that Toronto coach Greg Vanney admires his work ethic and reliability as much as his physical power and attacking talent.
“He did exactly what we wanted him to do on the attacking side, which was get on the ball when he could and be aggressive,” Vanney said.
“Obviously, at the end, with a load of confidence, he took that one out of the air and finished it. He gave us an honest day’s work defensively, which is important. Again, he did what we asked him to do on the day, so there’s not much more to say than that.”
While Telfer is an understated kind of player, though, the magnitude of his winning goal — even at this early stage of the season — can not be.
“First and foremost we needed three points, no matter how it happened — whether it was pretty, whether it was ugly,” Zavaleta added. “For us to get the first goal and sort of feel good about ourselves and the position we put ourselves in, and then to give up one up in the form — in terms of wins and losses — that we’re in, I think is difficult.
“It takes a lot of courage, a lot of belief in each other, to push again and to go again and to get that second goal. I think it was credit to that. This team believes in each other and you saw that out there tonight.”