Add one more to the growing roster.
Toronto FC announced the signing of 18-year-old midfielder Ralph Priso on Wednesday, the 25th homegrown player to sign for the first team.
Having been with the TFC Academy since 2017, Priso has worked up the player pathway, moving from TFC III to TFC II and, now, to the first team.
Greg Vanney has been waiting for the opportunity to add him to the group.
“Four weeks ago was the right time, but we've been working through all of that to get him on,” said the coach following Wednesday’s tie against the New York Red Bulls. “He's been with us since we returned from Orlando. He was with us in preseason, unfortunately took a bit of an injury that cut his preseason short; might have been with us even earlier.”
“He's been excellent in training,” continued Vanney. “Shown every day that he deserves to be here and he's ready to play.”
Even with time to get used to training with the first team, it is still sinking in that he is now a member of that group.
“Not really,” said Priso, asked if that realization had dawned on him. “It's only been a couple of days, so I still feel the same. I think it'll hit me eventually, but right now I just keep training day-to-day.”
Though this season has been anything but usual, Priso has taken advantage of the opportunity to integrate himself in the side with the help of his now teammates.
“Training with guys like Michael [Bradley], Jozy [Altidore], [Jonathan] Osorio, these are guys that I watched and idolized when I first joined the club at 14,” explained the midfielder. “So now training with them every day is great. I'm learning a lot. And then the speed is a lot faster, so I'm improving every day.”
Along with the coaches, it is a group effort bringing along the young guys.
“Michael, because we play in the same position, helps me out, gives me tips,” said Priso. “Jozy looks out for the young guys a lot. Same as Oso, Richie [Laryea], the Canadian guys, they help us a lot.”
“Q [Westberg], Lolo – Laurent [Ciman], helps me a lot. Chris [Mavinga], Marky [Delgado] gives me tips,” he continued. “Everyone helps out the young guys, everyone looks out for us, and then it's easy to be integrated into the group.”
Priso describes himself as a ‘left-footed’ midfielder, who ‘can do a little bit of everything.’
“I'm not a specialist in anything, but I'm pretty good at everything,” he continued. “I’m good on the ball, I can dribble, a decent passing range, I can cover ground, I can tackle. Just a little bit of everything.”
Between the left-peg and a more defensive mindset, he brings a different flavour to the TFC midfield ranks.
“He's a two-way midfielder with a little bit more of a defensive specialty, closes ground fast, gets tight to people, strong in the tackle. He moves the ball quickly,” detailed Vanney. “A little bit different than our guys in that he comes from the left side.”
“Every time we put a challenge in front of him, he meets the challenge,” the coach continued. “I've seen it over the years, but I was really impressed with him in the FIFA U-17 World Cup. I felt of the Canadian players, he was one that stood out in being able to meet the level in every single game.”
“Whether that was against Brazil or New Zealand, he was always at the level necessary. When we have players like that you've got to continue to put challenges in front of them,” Vanney added. “He's ready. I look forward to using him through this stretch. We'll see how much of a role he plays, but he's fully capable.”
Last year was a pivotal one for Priso. He signed with TFC II ahead of the 2019 USL League One season in March, represented Canada at the 2019 Concacaf U-17 Championship in May, where he helped Canada earn a spot at the World Cup, made his professional debut in August, and then went to Brazil in October with Canada for the final tournament.
A formative experience.
“The U-17 World Cup was great; Concacaf was a good experience as well,” said Priso. “We expected to qualify and we did, which was great. Playing Brazil was probably the best team I've ever played, with some of the best players I've ever played against. It was a great experience.”
“Obviously, the tournament didn’t go the way we wanted,” he continued – Canada would not advance from the group stage. “We had the group and the talent to go through, we just didn't capitalize on our moments in the games against Angola and New Zealand, so that was a little disappointing, but the experience was great.”
2020 threw a curveball, but Priso, as Vanney said, has continued to meet his challenges.
“I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready to play. I want to play,” Priso closed. “If I get my chance, I'll be ready to take it and help the team win games. That's what I'm here to do and that's why I signed.”