TORONTO – It took a bit of time, but the Bobby Convey of old has finally showed up at Toronto FC.
When the Reds acquired Convey in a trade with Kansas City back in May, the hope was that the veteran winger would provide some creative inspiration and a spark to a limp TFC offence.
It didn’t quite work out that way. Not at first.
Convey, a 30-year-old native of Philadelphia, struggled at the start of his Toronto tenure, routinely showing a poor touch on the ball and barely making a significant impact on the field. Such was the extent of Convey’s rather anonymous play at times that you’d be forgiven for sometimes thinking he wasn’t even on the field.
But Convey looked completely reborn during a 0-0 draw against New York on July 20, and followed that up with a man-of-the-match performance in a 2-1 win over Columbus last weekend.
Toronto coach Ryan Nelsen never doubted that Convey would eventually come good.
"When we bring in players, there’s always going to be that transition time," Nelsen said. "It does take time, like any settling-in period with any job, whatever you do. Luckily now we see the Bobby Convey that we saw four of five years ago, the Bobby Convey of old."
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The Convey of four or five years ago was plying his trade with Reading in the Premier League and Championship, earning a move to England after turning heads with D.C. United. Convey has been turning heads lately with TFC, given licence to switch from one flank to another and float in behind the team’s forwards in a supporting role. Nelsen has been impressed with Convey’s ability to cut into the middle from the right off his left foot and deliver a dangerous cross from the flanks.
"There are actual reasons why we give (Convey) the okay to go underneath the striker and switch over," Nelsen explained. "It’s the freedom to use (his) football brain to realize the times when to do it and judge it (himself)."
It seems to be working. Convey has demonstrated sound judgment and set up both goals in TFC’s win over Columbus.
"It makes it easier when you have a bit more freedom. I try to play within the framework of how our team works and try to get on the ball more to help the team win," Convey said.
Having to adapt to a new formation (TFC plays a 4-4-2, compared to K.C.’s 4-3-3), new tactics, a new philosophy and new teammates were just some of the reasons for Convey’s slow start for the Reds. He’s been alone since moving to Toronto – his wife has been back in Kansas City all this time trying to sell their house, and is finally set to join him next week.
"When you move in the middle of the season it’s always tough. A lot of fans just see the on-field stuff but it’s tough to move when you have a family that you can’t see and you’re living in different countries," Convey offered.
There were also other important issues Convey had to overcome, including rustiness stemming from his lack of playing time since joining Kansas City prior to the 2012 season.
Convey made 189 regular-season and playoff appearances in MLS before this year, scoring 14 goals and registering 33 assists after beginning his pro career at D.C. United in 2000 at the age of 16. After D.C., he moved on to Reading but returned to MLS ahead of the 2010 campaign when he signed with San Jose and was voted MLS Comeback Player of the Year in his first season back in the league. Convey was also named to the MLS All-Star team on three occasions during his career.
But he never really figured in Kansas City manager Peter Vermes’ plans and was relegated to the bench after starting the first two games of the 2013 season.
"From the beginning of the year there were a few teams asking about me, inquiring about a trade. Peter said no and told me that he wanted me to stay there and play. But after a three-month pre-season in which you play a game and half, you know something is up. You don’t decide to make a trade after a game and a half — the decision was made long ago," Convey said.
Two months have passed since he left Kansas City, and Convey is still struggling to understand why he was traded.
"I came into pre-season and did all the testing, and I was one of the fittest guys on the team. … I came in as fit as I ever was and then I was traded. I have no idea why. I never talked to Peter after that," Convey said.
How badly did Kansas City want to offload Convey? So badly that he found his locker had already been cleared out by the club when he arrived for practice one morning on the day he was traded.
"It was pretty disrespectful the way it was handled," Convey stated. "I think Peter is an immature manager in some ways. He’s a good trainer but his player management skills aren’t great at times. All he had to do was have a simple conversation with me and there would have been no hard feelings.
"In doing what he did and how he did it, Peter created some doubts about me. ‘Oh, he’s not playing for KC, so there must be something wrong.’ There wasn’t."
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While some fans and media critics believed he had a point to prove after leaving Kansas City, Convey didn’t feel that way.
"I never doubted myself because as a professional you can’t do that. You have to have thick skin and I learned that at a very young age. When I was young I would take everything everybody said and it affected me. Now I don’t. If you put the work in it’ll come out at the other end and I’ve put the work in," Convey explained.
"For whatever reason, KC wanted me to move on. It is what it is, and that’s fine. That’s their choice. … A lot of the players and staff there texted me after the trade and said they didn’t think it was right and they wished me luck. I knew I was doing something right. I’ve been written off a bunch of times, so I’m used to it."
Convey maintains he isn’t at all bitter about his Kansas City departure, his disappointment tempered by how things have played out in Toronto.
"For me, karma is everything. How you treat people and how you want to be treated is a big thing for me, and this couldn’t have worked out any better," Convey admitted. "I love Toronto. Absolutely love it here. I love where I live. People love the team. I was on the subway the other day and I was recognized. It’s amazing to be a part of this. Obviously the team is struggling now, but I want to be here and help TFC become one of the best teams in MLS."