TFC rookie excited about Canadian adventure

Nick Hagglund walks off stage after being drafted by Toronto FC. (Matt Rourke/AP)

Nick Hagglund only had American money on him.

Just days after being drafted by Toronto FC, the Cincinnati native travelled to Toronto ahead of the opening of the team’s pre-season training camp and ventured out of his temporary downtown living quarters to check out the neighbourhood. He went into a popular Italian restaurant, enjoyed a hot meal on a cold day and tried to pay with his debit card.

It didn’t work, though. He hadn’t converted any of his American money into Canadian currency, so he paid the tab with one of his $100 bills—that’s all he had. Done and dusted. But then the change came, and he was puzzled.

"I got these coins back. I looked down at them and I thought to myself, ‘well, that’s interesting.’ [laughs] The waitress told me they were loonies and toonies. I think I’ll need a purse. I’ll need something to hold all this change. Hopefully, I won’t have any holes in my pockets," Hagglund quipped in an interview with Sportsnet.

Cold weather and "funny money" aside, Hagglund maintains he is thrilled to call Canada’s largest city his home away from home.

"I’m excited for something new. I’ve been in Cincinnati for my whole life, and I’ve never really travelled, so I view this as an adventure and I’m looking forward to see what Toronto has to offer," Hagglund said.

The prospect of leaving the United States and plying his trade in Canada doesn’t faze him at all. Any fears he had were negated by the fact he was picked by TFC, a team that has revamped its roster in the off-season with some major moves and has its eyes on a big future.

"When I heard my name called by Toronto I was ecstatic. With all the signings they’ve made and the press they’re getting and all the changes happening, I was so excited to go to a team that has vision, has high expectations, has pressure and has a winning mentality. They’re saying we need to win this year; we’re going to give the city a team that they’re proud of," Hagglund said.

TFC have high hopes for Hagglund, if the Reds’ draft day maneuver to get him is any indication. Toronto originally had the 15th overall pick, but traded up to number 10 with the Philadelphia Union (in exchange for allocation money) to ensure they landed the 21-year-old defender.

"That showed that they have a lot of confidence in me. They know I have a lot to offer to the team, and moving up in the draft said, ‘Hey Nick, we want you and we want you to be a part of this team. We see you in our future. You’re not just a pickup,’" Hagglund said. "I think they have plans for me."

He’s already had discussions with Ryan Nelsen, and while TFC’s second-year coach hasn’t made any promises to the Ohio native about playing time, it’s clear Hagglund figures into the team’s plans.

"He told me he sees me in the lineup. Maybe it’s not this season, but it could be down the road two or three years. He told me he sees me as being an elite centre back in MLS," Hagglund said.

Already, captain and fellow centre back Steven Caldwell has been mentoring Hagglund, who also has the advantage of being coached by someone with an intimate knowledge of the position—Nelsen played centre back England for Premier League outfits Blackburn, Tottenham, and Queens Park Rangers before retiring to take over TFC’s coaching reins.

The rookie centre back has spent the past three days training with the club in Florida, and he’s discovered how difficult it is to make the transition from the college to professional ranks.

"The intensity of every practice is very high. I’ve learned pretty quickly that I’m not in college anymore and that you have to play the ball quicker out of your feet. You have to make smart decisions quickly," Hagglund said.

At six-foot-one and 187 pounds, Hagglund cuts an imposing physical figure on the pitch. His power, strength and build were just some of his attributes that caught TFC’s attention. A strong work ethic is something he also prides himself on.

"I have a high standard for myself. I want to make sure I’m doing everything to the best of my ability and not cut any corners, so I think that helps push my teammates too," Hagglund offered.

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