As the most popular and accessible sport on earth, soccer is called “the world’s game” for a reason. The game is a universal language that brings people together from all walks of life. And while soccer has presented many players with the opportunity to travel the world, Toronto FC’s Raheem Edwards has been happy enough to stay put in his corner of the globe.
Growing up just outside the city limits of Toronto, the Mississauga native dreams of a long and productive career in his hometown with the club he loves.
“I’ve always been here, local,” he says. “I’ve been here basically my whole life, since I was four years old. I still have the same friends now that I had back then. It means a lot to me to be making it right here.”
“Taking the train, taking the bus to training, it makes you look back and see where you came from. Even playing for a big club like Toronto FC, it’s impossible for me to forget my roots. I’m thankful for that. It means a lot to me to be making it right here.”
And make it he has, rising through the youth ranks to the first team at Toronto FC, and even the Canadian national team. Still just 22 years old, Edwards has the potential to go even higher, with his competitive nature pushing him to the top.
“There’s always fun in the game, but I was always driven to be the best,” he explains. “The household that I grew up in was very competitive, so that was a part of me by nature. My older brother played soccer and I always wanted to prove that I was better than him. He always pushed me to be a better player.”
There are always going to be bumps along the way, but I focus on keeping a level head and staying on my path.
That edge was present outside of the home, as well, with some of the nation’s top talent right in his backyard, pushing Edwards from a young age.
“I’d play against guys like Cyle Larin, Richie Lareya, Jordan Hamilton; we all came from Ontario. There’s so much talent here.”
At his childhood stomping grounds, Edwards recalls a particularly formative moment in his young career, battling against Hamilton, a foe who would soon become friend.
“I remember playing right here against Jay Hams,” he says, pointing out at South Common Park. “We played them in a final and I had a penalty kick in a Golden Goal scenario—if I score, we win—and I remember skying it over the bar. I started crying my eyes out on the field and everything. Of course, his team went down and scored their PK. I think of things like that when I’m back here and how surreal it is to be where I am today. Playing at BMO Field with Jay Hams and the rest of the guys, it’s pretty wild.”
That match spelled heartache for a 12-year-old Edwards, but better days were ahead.
Working his way through the youth circuit in Ontario, Edwards found himself with an important choice to make as he looked to embark on his career at university: follow in the footsteps of players like Cyle Larin and pursue an opportunity with a top program in the United States, or stay local and make it work at home. His decision may have turned some heads, but Edwards has no regrets.
“I had offers to play in the U.S., but I knew I wanted to stay at home and continue to develop here,” he says. “Who knows what would have happened if I took up those offers, maybe it would have helped me to play at a higher level, but I’m still grateful for the experience I had there.”
Citing his national title at Sheridan College as one of his most cherished moments on the field, Edwards has enjoyed the road less traveled.
“It shows kids that you don’t have to go to a big-time, NCAA school to get noticed. I came through Sheridan, a place where people thought you would just go there to have fun and not take it too seriously, but I had bigger dreams. I proved some people wrong and showed that Canadians can make it here, too. I’m glad that I’m paving the way for kids to dream.”
His success has done the talking, as his meteoric rise has garnered national attention. As a standout with Toronto FC II in 2016, Edwards recalls his first shot with the senior team that year.
“Last year’s Canadian Championship in Vancouver was unforgettable. It was my first appearance with TFC and we took home the cup. I was surprised as it was to even be on the bench, I never thought in a million years that I would come into the game. I remember hearing my name called and it was like an out-of-body experience.
Once the young kid watching Toronto FC on the rise, Edwards is now a part of the squad that is changing the culture around the club.
“I used to look up to guys like Dwayne De Rosario, now I’m in those shoes. We have a responsibility to be professional on and off the field. We need to show them that they can achieve at the highest levels.”
That new role comes with pressure, but it’s a role he relishes. The best, as they say, is yet to come.
“Being a hometown player, I know people will always have their eyes on me. But I put more pressure on myself to succeed than anyone else. I would love to get into the Canadian national team for a World Cup, but right now it’s all about MLS Cup. Last year was so unfortunate, but I would love to be a part of the team to bring the cup to Toronto.
“The fans have been so passionate since day one. It’s what they deserve.”