Youngster Stinson coming along gradually at Toronto FC

TORONTO — Midfielder Matt Stinson is gradually coming along.

The 18-year-old Toronto FC Academy product played in his first Major League Soccer match on June 25 as a second-half substitute in a 3-1 loss at Real Salt Lake.

Since then, Stinson has appeared as sub in four of TFC’s past seven MLS games, and was also a first-half sub in TFC’s 2-1 win at Real Estelí in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League preliminary round.

Head coach Aron Winter feels it is important to pick his spots with the younger players so they continue to develop. It’s something Stinson understands and appreciates.

“At the beginning, I think it was good that he gave me a half in the Real Salt Lake game on the road … and I was nervous,” Stinson said Tuesday after a rain-soaked training session at Downsview Park. “I think it actually helped that he put me in when I was away from home because I didn’t have family and friends in the stands, so I would have been a little more nervous.

“I think he’s just trying to look out for the emotional things as well,” added the Toronto native. “If he plays us too much, we might get burned out, we might have a bad game and get down on ourselves. As a young player, having confidence in yourself is really important, so there’s that fine line of not overplaying a young player.”

Stinson, who has played for Canada’s Under-20 team is, as he puts it, a “combative” player, someone who likes to “pressure my opponent … get back possession for our team and then play it to our more attacking players.”

Although he sees himself as more of a defensive player, Stinson has sometimes been used in an offensive role by Winter.

“I’ve grown up playing more of a holding midfielder role,” he said. “I like to get forward sometimes, but I still prefer the defensive role because I think I’m a ball-winner. But we have a lot of those on the team right now, so I’ve found myself in more attacking roles in the center midfield.”

And he says working with and watching former German international midfielder Torsten Frings and Canadian international Julian de Guzman has been a learning experience.

“Not many kids my age get the opportunity to play with world-class players likes Torsten and Julian,” he said. “Whenever I can, I sit back and I watch them play. I take little things to add to my game from theirs. It’s an honor to play with them. I feel like I can learn a lot.”