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Slam sports (Dalla Costa): Tyler Hemming


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It took longer than Tyler Hemming expected, but the wait was worth it.

The Londoner finally appeared in the last four games of Toronto FC's debut Major League Soccer season.

Hemming might have appeared earlier, considering how badly the club struggled and how well he played when he finally did make an appearance, but he spent time on the sidelines recovering from knee surgery.

When doctors determined he was healthy enough to play, Hemming was thrown into the fray the last four games. He played 20 and 40 minutes in his first two games and then played a full 90 minutes against the Los Angeles Galaxy in Los Angeles and a full 90 in the season finale in Toronto, a 2-2 draw against the New England Revolution.

"It was amazing," Hemming said. "It was unreal to play in front of that many people. In game in Los Angeles was played in in front of 27-28,000 people. And our games are always sold out. There's about 21,000 every game.

"I've never experienced anything like playing in front of our fans. I've never experienced anything like it at any sporting event at any level. Our crowd is so lively and into it. It's different from what I've seen even in Britain or different places, even different sports like the Raptors or Blue Jays. Nothing compares to it. It's like one big party."

At 22, any experience Hemming can acquire will help him get to the next level, which would be a regular spot on a professional team. As an MLS development player, he sat on Toronto's bench the first two games of the season, but played for the reserve side. Hemming scored in his first game for the reserve side.

But he injured a knee, tore the meniscus and had to undergo surgery.

After rehabilitation, he returned to the reserve side until he worked himself back into condition.

"It still hurts a little after games or training, but it's getting better. I'm just happy I had a chance to get into games with the main side. It was nice to get in there finally. It was disappointing basically having to watch all season. I understood that I am a professional player, but to actually play in the game is another step forward. I have to keep taking these baby steps and keep moving forward in the right direction. It's a good accomplishment to have."

The Toronto franchise was wildly successful off the field. It played in a new stadium and its games were sold out. Despite the team's struggle on the field, every game was a soccer celebration. Fan enthusiasm never dampened, even though Toronto went through a long winless streak and couldn't score in 824 minutes.

"That was really difficult," Hemming said. "You can always use all the excuses you want. We had tons of injured players. But still, there are no excuses. But credit to our fans. They stayed behind us. Some fans turn on you when you lose a game. They never did. It was ridiculous."

One of Hemming's best friends is Western Mustangs football player Matt Carapella. Hemming invited him to a game.

"Even he had to admit that he'd never seen anything like it," Hemming said with a laugh. "He loved it. So when you see him, make sure you remind him about it and how impressed he was."

Hemming would obviously like to play in front of those fans on a regular basis next year.

"I've been told I have a future with the team, but we have to wait and see," he said. "Obviously, there's a lot of work to be done. There always is. But I'm happy with what I've done in the last four games when I've come on. Hopefully, I can improve on that as I go on."

Even though the season has been over for several weeks, Hemming just got back from playing a exhibition game with Toronto in Portland. He has a couple of other commitments before taking some time off.

"With a couple of injuries I've had, I'll take two or three weeks off, do some light jogging. When I get back to 100 per cent, I'll start a full offseason training program."

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