In its brief existence, Toronto FC has seen over a hundred players come through its roster turnstile. Now, about a month before the team's fifth season wraps up, I'm prepared to anoint one individual as the most important player to have ever suited up for the Reds.
It's not Danny Dichio. It's not Jim Brennan. It's not even the fabulous Rohan Ricketts.
It's a 20-year-old fullback named Ashtone Morgan.
This is not to say Morgan will bloom into the best player TFC has ever seen. In fact, this has nothing to do with where his career goes from here. His importance comes from the fact that he is the first graduate of the Toronto FC Academy to be called up to the Canadian men's national team.
Now, hold on, west coasters, I can already hear you typing your angry responses, so let me say that of course the Whitecaps have had a functioning academy for much longer than Toronto FC has, and yes, one can certainly say that Vancouver has had a much deeper connection to the national team in terms of serving as a talent pipeline.
But Morgan's ascension to the national-team level represents the culmination of what many of us dreamed possible when Toronto FC first came into being: That a kid born in Toronto could play in Toronto, be scouted by Toronto FC's academy, find their way to the senior side and, if they have the talent, represent Canada on the international stage.
Not only that, but that a kid with eligibility for other nations would choose to represent Canada without thinking twice -- which is the case with Morgan, as he told Red Nation Online earlier this month.
Sure, none of this is unique in the world of soccer -- or even within Canada. The difference is that when it comes to giving kids a clear pathway to the national team (community club, pro club academy, pro club, national team), the geographical area we're now talking about is the Golden Horseshoe, with a population of over eight million people and tens of thousands of soccer-playing kids.
Jonathan de Guzman and David "Junior" Hoilett both grew up in the Toronto area, but scuttled off to Europe as young teenagers in an effort to forward their careers. Though both have brothers still in the Canadian system, most observers are under the assumption that neither will ever play for Canada. Would things have been different if they had stayed at home longer?
No one knows for sure. Given that Hoilett is a Premier League starter at age 21, it's safe to guess he'd have outgrown MLS years ago. But would having the chance to play with and against other young Canadians, before moving to Europe, have made his thoughts on his international future a little clearer?
Now, I'm not saying Morgan is bound for Europe. I've got no idea where his club career is headed.
But many have looked at Hoilett's decision on his international career to be critical not just to the on-field performance of Canada over the next few years, but in setting an example to future generations of kids -- that, in essence, "it's OK to play for Canada."
Morgan's call-up, though, sends a message of its own: playing for Canada is not just "OK", it's something worthwhile, an achievement. Indeed, head coach Stephen Hart said that Morgan wouldn't get a run-out in either of Canada's next two games simply for the sake of it; he'd have to earn on-field time.
Here's hoping that he does. Here's hoping that his hard work is rewarded.
And here's hoping that all across populous, multicultural southern Ontario -- fertile ground for budding, passionate soccer talent -- kids who follow TFC are also keeping their eyes on Morgan and thinking "hey, that could be me -- and I know just how to make it happen."