At the tender age of 20 years old, Toronto FC defender Doneil Henry has already seen enough playoff-less years to last him a lifetime.
Now approaching the status of being a very young MLS veteran himself after going pro when he was 17 years old, the Toronto native is both looking forward with relish at the season to come, and confident about TFC’s chances at finally making some noise in the postseason.
“I have been here to see the team struggle and I’m just hungry to help this team go as far as it can,” Henry told MLSsoccer.com. “We want to hopefully give something back to the fans because they really do deserve it after sticking with us for this long.”
As a young player who has been praised by Toronto head coach Ryan Nelsen and team captain Steven Caldwell for both his play and his potential, Henry admitted he is heartened by the fact that the majority of conversations now taking place around TFC are no longer solely focused on the future and the potential of the team’s young talent.
In fact, while he is fully cognizant of the fact that he will likely play a key role in any success that TFC enjoy in 2014, the Canadian international believes that the offseason acquisition of players such as Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe and Dwayne De Rosario, along with the return of Caldwell, his central-defense partner from last season, represents a game change that now puts his hometown club in the best shape in team history.
“Steven came in last year and right away set an example and set standards,” Henry explained. “We had never had a leader like Steven at the back before. While I certainly want to start as many games as possible, whether it is me, Gale [Agbossoumonde] or Nick [Hagglund] playing, as long as we have Steven at center half anchoring the team at the back, a player like Bradley in the midfield and a pure goalscorer like Defoe up top, the core of the team will be there.”
“We have a lot young players that have done well and we have added a lot of experienced players that will just add to it,” Henry added. “I think this team can be one that can really contend for the MLS Cup.”
Realistically, there hasn’t been a similar sense of hope and excitement in Toronto since the club acquired MLS legend and Toronto native De Rosario for the first time back in 2009, which was just prior to Henry becoming the first player from Toronto FC's academy to graduate to the professional ranks.
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Given his familiarity with De Rosario, Henry admitted that on top of new teammates such as Bradley, Defoe and Brazilian national team 'keeper Júlio César, he is particularly excited about the intangibles and winning mentality that the former MLS Most Valuable Player has now added to TFC’s squad.
“Dwayne is a Canadian hero,” Henry said. “I got a chance to be a teammate of Dwayne’s when I first signed with TFC and experienced the example that he showed as a captain. To have him back home, as he calls Toronto, is great for the team, the fans and all the Canadian supporters.”
“Dwayne is a special player and we are lucky to have him on our team. He has proven himself at the International level and in the league he is one of the top players to have ever played in MLS. Dwayne is a hard worker and he is a winner. Anybody who has that winning mentality is someone who you want in the locker room.”