Life in the big city is a dream for many, just not for Nick Hagglund.
Growing up just north of Cincinnati before attending Xavier University, Ohio was the only home that Hagglund had ever known, the perfect setting for the self-proclaimed “country boy,” complete with the “girl next door” love story to boot.
“When I was six years old, I fell head over heels for Mary,” he says with a laugh. “I chased her for about 12 years before she finally thought I was cute enough.”
But the pursuit of his other love would eventually mean a change of scenery, as soccer took him north of the U.S. border.
“It was such a change for me,” Hagglund says. “The different cultures, the way of life, all these big buildings, serious amounts of traffic; all I had known was Cincinnati.”
The bustling metropolis that is Toronto was a stark contrast from the Ohio suburbs. A new city, a new home, a new life; it was all part and parcel to the job. But that didn’t make the adjustment any easier.
“I was settled in Cincinnati,” Hagglund says. “I knew the city, I had a lot of friends and family, so coming to a big city where I didn’t have any of that was tough.”
Coming to this city was eye-opening at first for a kid that grew up in a small town in Ohio; soccer was all I had. It was definitely exciting, but also pretty scary if I’m being honest. But for me to have Mary come up here, now I had a family. I was taking care of her, she was taking care of me; that’s when I felt like Toronto had become my home.
Challenges revealed themselves on the field, as well, as the SuperDraft pick worked to establish himself within a team that featured the likes of Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley.
A young player with a lot to learn, he quickly found out just how difficult it would be to make his dream a reality.
“I knew I had an opportunity to make a mark and help change the culture of Toronto FC, but I was very naïve when I came into the league,” Hagglund admits. “When I went to the draft I was thinking, ‘This is amazing!’ But little did I know how difficult it is for players to come out of the draft and actually stick around with a club.
“After my first six months, I started to realize how tough it was. I started to see friends get dropped or loaned out to USL teams, and I knew it was only going to get tougher.”
Off the field, a sense of normalcy returned after tying the knot with his long-time sweetheart following his rookie campaign. The hardships that come as a young player striving to make an impact remained, but the newlywed couple found strength in their new bond as Mary joined Nick in Toronto.
“I was by myself my first year in Toronto. I was going out and hanging with other people, but for me to have Mary come up here, now I had a family. I was taking care of her, she was taking care of me; that’s when I felt like Toronto had become my home, and I was excited to get to explore it with her.”
For Hagglund, home is family, but home is also the little things throughout the city like his favorite coffee shop nestled away on Portland St.
The everyday details that seem mundane and forgettable to the natives have proved to be a vital part of Hagglund’s acclimation process, as Jimmy’s Coffee has served as “the local” for Nick and the guys.
“I was never a coffee guy, I always thought I didn’t need caffeine; I had my own energy,” he explains. But all of that changed when he and Mark Bloom made it their mission to find the best coffee joints in Toronto.
Says Hagglund, “You have to rate them on aesthetic appeal, quality of the coffee, the ambience, the vibe, and the location, obviously.
“Now every morning, Drew Moor and I drive to Jimmy’s before training. We know all the baristas and we love the atmosphere here. It’s kind of like Friends and how they have Central Perk; we have Jimmy’s Coffee.”
In the midst of his fourth season with the Reds, the air of anxiousness surrounding his big move seems like ancient history to Hagglund. No longer is Toronto seen as the daunting unknown up north as his personal and professional lives continue to soar to new heights in a place he is proud to call home.
“I never thought I’d be an integral part to the team after my second year where I didn’t get a ton of playing time. I know this is where I belong, and I’m just blessed to be where I am right now.”