Telfer vs. Seattle

Daniels, Dunn, and Telfer reflect on first month since signing deals

TORONTO – April 13 was a special day for Toronto FC, both for the club as a whole and for three players in particular.

Tim Bezbatchenko said so himself at the time.

That was the day that Ryan Telfer, Julian Dunn, and Aidan Daniels signed first team contracts after plying their trade with Toronto FC II in USL. Telfer, a Mississauga-native, is in his second season at the club after his York University days, while Dunn, from Toronto, and Daniels, from Markham, are homegrowns and products of the full player pathway instituted at TFC.

“It feels amazing,” said 17-year old Dunn, big smile on his face, a few days later. “I've been looking forward to this my whole life. I grew up watching this team, it's my hometown. It's an honour; I'm truly blessed.”

The 19-year old Daniels agreed: “It was really big for me and my family.” 

“It's something I've been working towards since I came to the TFC Academy when I was 13 or 14,” continued Daniels. “It wasn't a weight lifted off my shoulders, but more a relief to know I have the talent and potential.” 

While both Dunn and Daniels have been at the club for years, conditioned to see this as a possible future, for the 24-year old Telfer, the last two years, his first in a professional environment, have been a whirlwind.

“It was a faint idea in my head,” said Telfer of signing with the first team. “I wasn't expecting it to fly by so fast. Just last year was my first as a professional and this will be my first as an MLS player. It happened so quick. I'm grateful for the opportunity that came my way. Thankful for everything.”

And how it came together was all a bit of a surprise.

“After TFC II practice, Laurent [Guyot] said there was a possibility that the first team would need players,” recalled Telfer. “He said to look out for a call or an email.” 

“I was contacted the following night, asked if I was ready to come to Colorado. I said I was ready for anything,” continued Telfer. “Following day, me and the other guys flew out. That's when everything happened. Suddenly I was signed to the first team and making my debut the following day.”

With the first team deep in the Concacaf Champions League and injuries beginning to accumulate, the possibility of a debut was evident – MLS has a mechanism that allows USL players to sign short-term contracts, but to be signed to a proper deal was something else.

“I wasn't expecting it at all,” said Daniels. “I thought I was going to sign a four-day deal, be on the bench. Greg [Vanney] took the chance, it came up and I signed it.”

Dunn got some word ahead of time, but was still in awe of the reality: “My agent called, said, 'You must be doing really well, because they offered you a contract'.” 

“I was going crazy,” added Dunn. “It was a crazy moment.”

All three players were with the first team in preseason, a chance both for Vanney and company to get a closer look, but also to get to know the rest of the side.

“It was a great opportunity, got me in there with the guys,” said Dunn. “I'm still a long way off, but training every day, day in, day out, brings you up slowly. You learn from the guys.”

And over the coming pair of matches, in Colorado and Houston, all three would make their debuts. Telfer started against the Rapids while Dunn joined off the bench. Daniels would wait until the following week in Houston to come in for his first appearance.

“It's nerve-wracking: 19-years old, making your MLS debut,” said Daniels. “When my name got called, I was excited to get on the field. It didn't go the way we wanted, but to come in, experience and relish the atmosphere, was amazing.”

Dunn recalled his entrance as well: “There was so much going on. I had butterflies in my stomach. Then they're calling me over, 'Jules, you're going in'. Nice to be out there with the guys, not the best result, but we can work on that.”

Once on the pitch, it was the same game they had all played before.

“Butterflies went away, it was normal,” explained Dunn. “Greg told me, 'Do what you've been doing your whole life'. Nothing changes, just the stage.”

That said, a first team deal is just another step on the journey of a long career, not a destination in and of itself.

“Being in a professional environment has given me a new outlook on how [it] looks,” said Telfer. “I wanted to adapt and adjust to that lifestyle, to understand how these players play in the big leagues. I wanted to be like them. To work hard every day and see how far it would take me.”

Much effort lies ahead.

“A lot of hard work, lot of hours in the gym and on the pitch,” anticipated Daniels, who has made successive jumps from League1 Ontario to USL and now to MLS. “You have to take those steps to play at the next level.”

But as with all milestones, it is good to take a moment to celebrate, even if not right away.

“No time to celebrate, we had a game to focus on,” said Telfer. “Any type of celebrations will be after the season, see how we do. That's the most important thing right now, the team.”

Upon returning from Colorado, both Daniels and Dunn celebrated in the traditional style: dinner with the family.

“We went out for a nice dinner,” said Daniels. “Celebrated with them, because I wouldn't be here without them.”

Echoed Dunn: “Once I got back, I took my family out, had a cake.” 

Curious minds need to know: what kind of cake? Strawberry cake.

Daniels, meanwhile, denied himself that pleasure: “No cake. Got to keep the body fat low.” And as for Telfer, when he takes that moment to celebrate at the end of the year, what kind of cake will he indulge in?

“I would say,” thought Telfer aloud, before settling on the best of cakes. “Ice cream cake.”