TORONTO – Add another member to the Century Club at Toronto FC.
Along a wall adjacent to the players lounge at the BMO Training Ground, TFC's home base, there is a special spot reserved for the members of that exclusive group.
It is a rare honour.
On Saturday night, Nick Hagglund became just the eighth player to reach that milestone for TFC, making his 100th appearance (all competitions) in his fifth season with the club.
Ashtone Morgan was the first; Jonathan Osorio leads the club with 192 appearances. Over the years, Justin Morrow, Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco, Marky Delgado, and Jozy Altidore have each joined them in stride.
“I've been here for five years,” said Hagglund on Thursday. “To be a part of this club and organization, to watch their growth, has been incredible. [I'm] so glad to have been a part of it.”
It is an achievement that undoubtedly speaks to longevity, but also to tenacity, to perseverance. Traits that have served Hagglund well over the years.
“He's always heart and soul, everything into the game,” said Greg Vanney. “He's a competitor and he loves to play.”
Reaching this point has not been easy; there have been plenty of challenges along the way.
“Appendix, knees, different things every year,” detailed Hagglund of the roadblocks he has faced and overcome. “To stick with it, keep going, keep grinding, even when sometimes the cards feel against you... I'm proud of it.”
At 25-years-old, still young, “Though not as young as he once was,” joked Vanney, Hagglund's progression has always been about further developing his game.
“His growth has always been about taking his athleticism and power and adding game-reading – recognizing situations, being able to see things early; to communicate around him,” said Vanney. “He's making strides in that area.”
“It comes with repetition; seeing [and] doing,” continued Vanney. “The more games, the better he'll get. 100 games is a great marker for a young centre-back. In the next 100, he'll continue to add to his game to keep looking like that mature veteran centre-back that he he can become.”
Asked of the crowning moment of his career to date, Hagglund highlighted two feats.
“The Montreal goal was amazing,” recalled Hagglund of his crucial 68th minute header in the second leg of that epic 2016 Eastern Conference Final against the Montreal Impact. “For the team, this organization, winning MLS Cup was the best experience I've ever had in soccer world. It was a blast to be a part of it.”
With the series delicately poised, Hagglund massive leap ensured extra time, where TFC would go on to clinch a first-ever MLS Cup Final berth.
“He's had more than one of those,” smiled Vanney. “That, in terms of its timing in the game and everything, is huge. It was a tribute to who he is: a winner, a competitor; he goes for it.”
And to score again on the night of the milestone was worthy of the moment. Though, ever about the task at hand, Hagglund was primarily concerned that it was not accompanied by a result, as TFC lost 2-1 on the road to Orlando City SC.
“For the 100th appearance, there’s a lot of people that go into that [narrative],” dismissed Hagglund. “I’m just thankful to God and my family; to be beside me and along for the journey. I’m glad to score the goal, but it’s about points, putting points on the board, and it wasn’t good enough tonight.”
Hagglund's tale is one of dreams coming true through hard work and commitment. It is about putting all that has come before in the past and rising to meet the challenge ahead, as say a certain defender does on a free-kick or corner, regardless of the hurdles that life, the game, and the opponent can throw in the way.
That is what TFC must look to in the months ahead, beginning with Wednesday's kickoff of the 2018 Canadian Championship, where the club will be looking for a third-straight Voyageurs Cup title and another shot at the Concacaf Champions League.
“You've got to move on to the next game,” said Hagglund post-match. “It’s holding the frustrations – of injuries, things that have happened, bounces not going our way, performances not good on certain days – and put them behind you and look forward.”
“We have a bunch of games,” continued Hagglund. “We have the Canadian Championship; we can find some form there. This is a league of momentum, and at any moment, [it] can happen. You just have to dig [deep, pick] yourself up and create some luck, find plays to get points on the board."
Vanney issued a rallying call to his side post-match: “We've got to keep fighting.”
“We've got a lot of guys who are on the edge of returning,” continued Vanney. “The guys who've been in have been competing, fighting, every single week. We've got to keep doing that. All of us have to be a little bit cleaner and tidier through the course of the game, but also understand that reinforcements are on the cusp.”
The returns of Jozy Altidore, Drew Moor, Chris Mavinga, and Victor Vazquez, as well as Morgan, Auro, and Gregory van der Wiel, are expected in the near-future.
“We need the depth of our team,” added Vanney. “The guys that are coming back will reinvigorate the group."
Hagglund's experience is instructive.
"It’s just good to get games, especially after a loss,” said Hagglund. “The best thing to do is to get back on the field; to put a good performance out there. That’s what we’re going to do on Wednesday.”