The Toronto FC attack may look a little different when the MLS regular season resumes on Sunday.
With the 2023 Leagues Cup coming to an end – Nashville SC will host Inter Miami CF in the Final on Saturday night – TFC are back in action this weekend when they welcome CF Montreal to BMO Field under the midway lights of the Canadian National Exhibition.
Toronto have been busy since they last played on July 30 integrating a pair of attacking pieces in South African forward Cassius Mailula and German forward Prince Owusu.
The 22-year-old Mailula’s move was announced first, on July 28, but it took some time to process his transfer from Mamilodi Sundowns FC of the top flight in South Africa, the DStv Premiership.
“It was tough to get here, but I’m finally here,” said Mailula on Friday. “I’m happy to be here. It was not easy, of course, but it was good for me to wait and be patient.”
Signed under the MLS U-22 Initiative, Mailula comes to Toronto on the heels of a successful debut campaign with Sundowns FC, both individually – he was named the Young Player of the Season – and for the club, who won the Premier Division title.
“It was not an easy decision to take, but I feel like I need to get out of my comfort zone, to explore, to get closer to Europe,” he explained. “This is the right decision for my career, for my family also.”
“It will help me a lot,” Mailula added. “Everything is top. The facility is good, the coaches are good, the players are also good, so it will help me to improve myself and go to the next level.”
Terry Dunfield shared his early impressions of Mailula, who got involved in training this week.
“He can play anywhere across the front line,” said the interim TFC coach. “He takes the ball well, whether it's in behind the back-line or in between lines, really smoothly. He can set up goals, he can score goals. There's a youthful enthusiasm with how he plays, very creative. We’ve got a very good young player on our hands who is excited to be in Toronto.”
Owusu, 26, was signed officially on August 4 and quickly got involved in training.
“I'm really happy to be here,” he said on Tuesday. “The team welcomed me, it was easy to do my first steps in Toronto. I got a lot of help from many people at the club. Everything is great.”
Out of contract after spending last season with SSV Jahn Regensburg in the 2. Bundesliga, Owusu was ready for a new adventure.
“My management and I thought about my future. We decided that North America would be my future,” he explained. “We had some good conversations with the club, especially with Jason, and after that we decided to come here.”
A German youth international, Owusu came up through the ranks of VfB Stuttgart.
“My first impressions are that he's similar to Cyle Larin,” referenced Dunfield. “He loves to run in behind, should bring our attack together nicely, and he's hungry to score goals. I'm really excited for our fans to see what we've seen over the past three weeks.”
For both this will be the first time leaving home to pursue the game. It will be an adjustment, but both have begun that process.
“I didn’t have a lot of struggles, just a few days with the time zone,” said Mailula. “In South Africa we are seven hours ahead. Now I'm getting better, starting to adapt to everything, the weather is good.”
Both travelled alone, but will have plenty of support as they settle.
“It's just me,” said Owusu. “Social media makes it a little bit easier, phone calls and everything, FaceTime, but I love to take risks. When I take risks, I will do it 100%. So I decided and I will do it on my own.”
“Of course I have support with my family, the team, the members of the club really helped me. I think it will be a good time here for me. I'm looking forward to it.”
Added Mailula: “My family is going to join me in a couple of weeks.”
And while both were aware of MLS, actually living it will be a new experience.
“Not so much, but I heard some things,” replied Owusu, asked about following MLS. “A few friends of mine, who I played with in Europe, play in MLS: Sergio Córdova (Vancouver Whitecaps FC ), João Klass (St. Louis CITY SC).”
“We see on social media what they do with their teams,” he continued. “A little touch of the experience I can get from MLS, but I want to make my own history, build my own legacy here.”
Mailula too kept an eye on the socials: “Just following it on social media.”
And now that he’s been able to play with some of the talent in the league he’s sure he made the right decision.
“I can see why these guys are good players,” Mailula explained, asked of his new teammates Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi. “You can see how they are in training, the attitude, the technique. To play with them opens my eyes. It helps me work hard to get to the level that they are.”
“Other even other teams in MLS – [Leo] Messi, [Sergio] Busquets,” he continued. “To come to MLS it's truly a great pleasure. For the team to give me this opportunity, I'm so grateful.”
With both available for selection on Sunday, fans will get to see what the pair can offer with their own eyes soon enough.
Mailula described himself as “not really a complicated player.”
“I like to score goals, to just see myself being on the pitch,” he continued. “I like to be free, to showcase my talent, and enjoy it because the most important thing is to just enjoy football.”
Said Prince: “I love to do deep runs. When I’m in front of the goal I don’t think much, I just do it. I don't get stressed and that's part of my quality because for a striker you have to always have a cold mind in every situation. You can score at anytime, in any second.”
Asked if he was troubled by Toronto’s current lack of goals, Prince's answer was succinct: “No.”
“Every action that I’m going to do, I do it with power,” he continued. “If I [make] the runs, maybe some space will be open for my teammates. I fit into the team really well, so for me it's just do my work to get fit and help the team.”
And what a game in store should they feature this weekend: against Montreal with the CNE as the backdrop.
“I’m excited to play with the team, my first game. I think it's going to be a big game for me because it’s the rival,” anticipated Mailula. “This is a big game for the club. It means a lot to the city. It will give me a lot of confidence if I get a chance to play. It will be good for me to start to integrate with the team.”
Closed Owusu, asked if he was ready and if he knew what the derby ahead entailed: “100%. I know what's coming.”