TORONTO – The jubilation of scoring a goal is plain to see whenever a player celebrates.
But for Ben Spencer, who scored the equalizer in a roaring 3-2 come back for TFC II on August 26 against the Charlotte Independence, there was far more at play than the standard elation.
“[It felt] really good,” smiled Spencer after training on Wednesday. “First goal for the club; something I've been pushing for all season. It's been on the back of my mind.”
“It's a product of all the hard work put in throughout the course of the season,” continued Spencer. “Hoping it starts a trend of more to come.”
With the side trailing by two goals, a red card to Alex Martinez put them up a man at the start of the second half. Ashtone Morgan kicked off the comeback in the 69th minute, Spencer levelled two minutes later, and Jordan Hamilton capped off the rousing response in the 76th minute, earning the three points for TFC II at one of the toughest venues in USL.
The 22-year old striker also collected an assist on the Morgan's opener.
Spencer described the play that led to his goal: “In the second half, Jordan and I were making quite a few runs into the box. I saw the ball pass over me, I knew Jordan was behind me. I saw the ball fall, lit up, went for it; slid it in.”
According to Greg Vanney, who has known Spencer since the Toronto FC coach spotted the forward at 15, the goal was, “Enormous. You could see the relief when he scored, picked up ball; held it in front of his face, [suggesting] something like, 'it's about time'. It's been two-and-a-half years since he scored in a competitive game.”
Spencer first came to Toronto FC on loan in 2015, signed a USL deal last September, and then an MLS contract earlier this season. For most of that time he has been plagued by a knee injury that sidelined him for over a year.
“I had a little conversation with the ball; we're on good terms now,” joked Spencer of that post-goal exchange. “I took a mental picture of the moment, that feeling. Just took it in.”
Much as it was good for him personally, it also spoke volumes of the side.
“It shows a lot of team spirit to fight back and score three,” said Spencer. “It was a special game; [one] to build on.”
That 'never give up' quality has been abundant with TFC II this season; something they will lean on throughout the rest of the 2017 season. Five matches remain for the side, beginning with Saturday's action against New York Red Bulls II at BMO Field after the first team plays the San Jose Earthquakes.
With Vanney intent on having his entire squad primed for the MLS Cup Playoffs, expect to see some fellow first-teamers, such as Spencer, on the pitch with TFCII against New York in the nightcap.
Monday will mark a year since Spencer returned to the pitch after his injury ordeal. The goal another milestone in the process.
“It's important,” said Vanney. “You want to get the feeling that what you're doing has fruits from that labour.”
“I was looking at his work rate numbers,” continued Vanney. “They're high, but what is coming from it – shots, chances, goals – isn't there yet; some of the spaces he's running into and timing are off a little bit. He's putting in the work, but it's not necessarily effective work. That's part of coming back from long-term injury: making your work mean more.”
“Hopefully this sense of scoring a goal, getting a feel for the areas you need to be and getting chances will take some of the stress off, but also add some reinforcement of where he needs to be and when,” explained Vanney.
Spencer, asked to reflect on his long journey, said: “You take it day by day. We all knew it was going to be a long process.”
“I finally feel like I'm coming back to form, the way I was feeling before I was injured,” continued Spencer. “That's really good, for my mental state; physically I feel great. There was a lot of work put in, but now we're starting to see the results.”