TORONTO – When Jozy Altidore's suffered a hamstring injury against Vancouver, Toronto FC needed someone to step up and fill his attacking role.
Enter Molham Babouli.
“He's blossoming before our eyes,” TFC head coach Greg Vanney said after last week's matchagainst New York City FC. “When you put a challenge in front of Mo, he figures out a way. He's powerful, he's [technically] gifted; he's continuing to grow in his tactical awareness.
“He's a player who drifts around the field, finds spaces. He's very mobile.”
Babouli registered his first assist with TFC, playing the ball for Will Johnson's goal against NYCFC, and nearly added a second with a lovely cut pass for Sebastian Giovinco against Columbus Crew SC days later. Giovinco's shot was saved by a diving Steve Clark.
“Mo was the best on the field,” said Giovinco after the draw with Columbus. “He played a great game; definitely a player who makes a difference.”
“[We] play a similar style,” Babouli said after training on Wednesday of he and Giovinco. “We're both small, so we like to get on the ball, get it at our feet. We've built a pretty good relationship through training, we've sparked a bit in the game, and hopefully we can continue to do so.”
Signed to a Homegrown contract on March 5, Babouli has risen through the club ranks over the past two seasons, grabbing attention first with the Academy in 2014 before excelling with TFC II in USL last year.
Born in the United Arab Emirates, Babouli and his family moved to Canada when he was 3 years old. Education was always important, so soccer took a backseat. In fact, he nearly put aside his dream of playing professionally before an academy tryout opened the door.
“Definitely bumps along the way,” Babouli said. “I never expected to be here, so now that I am, I look back and it's been a crazy ride.”
“I'm always focused, soak up every moment,” he said. “We're there to get the job done, so you can't think about that too much.”
His teammates have responded to his energy. Johnson called him "fearless'' in attack; Michael Bradley said he is "ready to step forward.''
“The pressure is always there,” Babouli said. “I feed off of that.”
The 23-year old, who has already accumulated international experience with the Canadian national team, hopes to eventually become a regular for Canada.
“I talk to Antonio [Floro, the assistant coach for Canada], often. We've got a pretty good relationship,” said Babouli. “If they call me, I'm always ready, always grinding, working hard. This is my job everyday; I take one step at a time.”
And as for that unique hair, a luxurious black mane down the middle with shaven sides, “I still don't know what I'm doing with it," he said. "People make fun, I don't mind, doesn't affect me. It does make me laugh, but it's not what's important at this point.”