TORONTO – One. 30. 21. 12. Nine. 18. 29. 22.
Those are the number of minutes, 142 in all, that Canadian forward Jordan Hamilton has played in each of his eight games for Toronto FC during the 2017 MLS regular season.
Last year, Hamilton, a native of Toronto, showed great promise for the Reds, including one stretch where he started nine consecutive matches en route to finishing the year with three goals in 14 total appearances. This year, Hamilton has been glued to the bench, a victim of TFC’s great depth at the forward position. With Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore in fine form – they’ve combined for 28 goals this year – playing time has been scarce for the 21-year-old Hamilton, who has been limited to eight substitute appearances in MLS.
Hamilton has spent the majority of the year turning out for the TFC 2 farm club which plays in the lower-tiered United Soccer League. Most of the time he doesn’t even make the Toronto FC’s 18-man roster on game days, and there’s no guarantee he’ll dress for Saturday’s home game against the New York Red Bulls.
It’s a frustrating situation for the Canadian prospect, but he’s taking it in stride, insisting that it’s up to him to convince coach Greg Vanney to give him more playing time.
“I’m always hoping that I’m [in] the coach’s head as an option to come in and contribute to the team. Doing well in the USL when I got to play and with the first team, I’ve tried to contribute – whether it’s scoring goals or assisting, or drawing penalties. It’s up to me to convince [Vanney]. I have to work hard until the point where I’m the Seba or I’m the Jozy that the team is relying on,” Hamilton told Sporstnet.
One of the challenges for Hamilton this past weekend was making the transition to MLS after being out of the first team for several months. It doesn’t make for a smooth transition.
“It’s always hard to be out of the first team games for so long. You play USL, and you get minutes, but it’s not the same. The speed of the game is quicker in MLS, so it’s hard to acclimatize. But you can’t use that as an excuse. You gotta just get in there and try to catch up as fast as you can,” Hamilton said.
Even when Giovinco and Altidore have been ruled out due to injury, like they were for Toronto’s last three matches, Vanney didn’t turn to Hamilton. Fellow Canadian Tosaint Ricketts started all three games, scoring four goals over that run, and was partnered with other players. Hamilton did come on for the final 22 minutes of the Reds’ 2-1 road loss to the New England Revolution, his first taste of action since July 19.
Why didn’t Hamilton get more of a chance? The more-experienced Ricketts is higher up the depth chart than Hamilton, and Vanney also believes that the two Canadian forwards are too similar in playing style, and that they wouldn’t necessarily have complemented each other.
“Can they play together? Potentially. I think they are very similar in that their preference is to be making runs behind the back line, not necessarily to [drop back] in midfield to link the game to then get to that final action. Jordan does it periodically, but I wouldn’t say it’s ultimately his greatest strength,” Vanney explained.
“Sometimes it’s the relationship of the two [forwards], playing off of each other, being aware of what each other is doing, and being able to be collaborative in that process. That’s something that we haven’t progressed as much between the two of them as maybe some of the other guys.”
Hamilton concedes that there are similarities in his and Ricketts’ game.
“We’re both similar in the way that we like to run in behind and use our speed and our finishing ability in the box. But if needed I can come underneath and connect the play. I have that part of my game, but my main strength is in the box and going at defenders and getting my shots off,” Hamilton said.
If Hamilton’s time is going to come, if he’s going to get more chances to play and start, he’ll have to show more consistency over a full 90-minute game.
“He’s still a progressing player. There’s still lots of things for him to learn. He has shown the capacity in a given moment to snatch goal, but what does that mean over 90 minutes versus what does that mean in an instance?” Vanney said.
LOOKING AHEAD TO NEW YORK
Toronto FC sits comfortably atop the overall MLS standings with a 18-5-8 record and 62 points, and looks a sure bet to win the Supporters’ Shield, the honour that goes to the team that finishes the regular season in first place.
Winning the Shield comes with the added bonus of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, including the MLS Cup final. Toronto can clinch the Supporters’ Shield on Saturday with a win over New York.
TFC is also chasing history as it tries to eclipse the league record for most points in a single season — the LA Galaxy collected 68 points during the 1998 campaign. Toronto has three games remaining to break the mark.
Saturday’s match at BMO Field is the final regular-season meeting between TFC and the Red Bulls. The teams battled to a 1-1 draw on May 19 in New Jersey, with Benoit Cheyrou scoring for Toronto.
While TFC has already clinched a post-season berth, New York is clinging to the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. The Red Bulls currently sit sixth in the East with a 12-11-7 record, just four points ahead of Montreal.