TORONTO – After Nick Hagglund's man-of-the-match performance in Toronto FC's 1-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday, there can be no doubt about it: He's now firmly in the running for MLS Rookie of the Year.
On the field, Hagglund has put in consistent and clean performances since becoming a regular starter in the middle of May. And with him in the first XI, the side has yet to suffer a defeat in league play. Used as a right fullback against San Jose, the No. 10 draft pick enjoyed a dominant match that saw him boldly try at goal three times, as well as win a penalty for his side.
“He is just a lovely guy that is not afraid of any occasion," head coach Ryan Nelsen said of Hagglund after the match. "He puffs his chest out and just goes for it. Whether you put him at striker or you put him in goal he is just that type of personality, and those types of personalities go a long way, not just in soccer but in life.”
Indeed. Hagglund, 21, is as confident and charismatic off the field as he is on it. Decked out in a tailored suit and shoes to match after the match, the young central defender certainly looks the part of professional footballer off the field, though that look came after a tough lesson in the form of a $100 fine for being voted the “worst dressed” on the team earlier in the season.
No one will fine him for his performance on Saturday, though, when he dominated his side of the field and nearly scored several times.
His first chance came in the 24th minute, when Hagglund controlled a cross and struck a sweet volley that forced Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch into a diving save. Where some defenders would look to get the ball into the box, Hagglund’s first thought was to go for the volley.
“Yeah, why not?” Hagglund said. “I took a touch, I knew I wanted to open up my hips, I knew I was close enough to take a shot and it went in the air, so I was, like, ‘Here we go, let’s give it a go!’”
A second chance came just moments later, when the ball was headed in his direction. Hagglund leaped into the air and took a karate-like acrobatic sideways shot at goal.
“I think he is icing his groin from that volley he did in the first half,” Nelsen joked later.
“I wish one of them went in!” Hagglund said. "It just deflected, I just put my leg up and was like ‘I hope this goes in!’ but it was redirected. I thought it was going to go in – next time, next game.”
Hagglund was also instrumental in Toronto’s game-winning goal, earning the penalty kick that Jermain Defoe converted in 27th minute. On the play in question, he was knocked down in the box by San Jose forward Alan Gordon as he tried to attack a corner kick. It was justice, according to Hagglund, given some earlier tussling between him and Gordon.
“The first free kick we had, [Gordon] grabbed me and bear hugged me,” Hagglund explained. “The second time, I asked the ref, I was like, ‘Check this out, make sure you don’t see anything [funny],’ went for it and he put an arm to my face and we got the penalty.”
He nearly found the back of the net in the second half, too, connecting off a Collen Warner free kick and heading just wide of the post.
So in the end, Hagglund did not get on the score sheet as the Reds extended their unbeaten streak to four matches. But the rookie from Xavier University is certainly impressing every chance he gets.