Stejskal: Ryan Telfer contributing after unexpected path to Toronto FC

That wild story that was floating around the internet about Ryan Telfer over the weekend?

It’s not true, according to the Toronto FC player.

While the 24-year-old Telfer was not, in fact, first noticed by the Reds at a chance men’s league indoor match against TFC GM Tim Bezbatchenko, his actual path to the pros is only slightly less unlikely.

Telfer didn’t turn professional until he was 23, years after most top prospects get their start. His first pro deal wasn’t even in MLS, with the Mississauga, Ontario native signing a USL contract with Toronto FC II last March.

Less than a year earlier, after barely playing in his first two years of Canadian college soccer, reaching that level looked like a pipe dream for Telfer.

“I think around 21, around that age I realized I was getting a little bit too old. I thought I was getting a little bit too old to be recognized, to be professional,” Telfer told over the phone earlier this week.

It’s not hard to see why he felt that way. Telfer and his family moved from Ontario to Trinidad when he was less than a year old. He didn’t return to Canada until he was 17. After a couple of years in the Canadian Soccer League and League1 Ontario, he walked on to the team at York University 2014.

At first, it was tough sledding for Telfer at York. He didn’t earn a single minute in his first year at school and only played in four matches in his second season. Minutes weren’t guaranteed in his third year, but Telfer earned time – and took full advantage of it. He recorded five goals and two assists in 14 starts in the 2016 season, earning a conference all-star nod and, crucially, working himself onto TFC’s radar.

TFC II head coach Jason Bent and assistant Chris Pozniak pushed for Telfer to be invited to the club’s annual college combine in December 2016, where Telfer’s solid play earned him an invite to TFC II’s 2017 preseason camp. Once more, Telfer took advantage, impressing enough to earn his first pro offer that March.

He appeared in 29 games for TFC II in 2017, recording one goal and four assists while primarily playing at left wing back. He spent time with Toronto’s first-team for portions of the 2018 preseason, then, as the team were dealing with a raft of injuries and resting their starters in MLS matches due to their Concacaf Champions League run, got signed by the big club in April.

He’s started four games since, with his best performance coming in last Friday’s win against Orlando, Telfer’s first start at winger. He terrorized Lions right back Will Johnson in the first half, regularly beating him on the dribble to setup several excellent chances, including a point-blank look for forward Jordan Hamilton. He saved his best moment for the dying minutes, however, smashing an Auro cross out of the air and into the back of the net in the 87th minute to give Toronto a much-needed 2-1 victory.

He’s been understated with media since, preferring to let his performance speak for him.

“I was just happy to get the three points that we needed so badly,” he said. “It was just important for me to lift the spirits of the team and that was the only thing I was thinking at the time.”

It’s unlikely that Telfer will continue to consistently start once TFC return to health, but his contributions over the last month are a good illustration that, even though he got a late start, not every player needs to come through the prescribed path to make an impact as a pro.

“I quickly understood that most players who went to MLS in their first season were starting at a much younger age,” he said. “For me, I just wanted to give myself a chance to adapt quicker than others. I wanted to grasp the whole concept of the tactical game, the technical game and just try to work harder than everyone else so I could be at that same level as them when they would be 24. That’s what I try to do every day.”