Last November, Marky Delgado sat in his girlfriend's house, anxiously refreshing Twitter, awaiting news about his future.
Delgado had just completed his third season as an MLS Homegrown Player, a childhood dream come true, but the demise of Chivas USA left him in limbo, unsure of what lay ahead.
“I was getting pretty nervous,” recounted Delgado last Thursday after training. “I got off Twitter, and my girlfriend was still searching. I'm just minding my own business, waiting to see where, and [she] says that I got picked up by Toronto FC.”
“I was lost for words; didn't know how to feel. It's in another country, away from my loved ones, and it's not the same as California … but coming here, I love it."
It was not an easy transition. There was the shock of the winter chill as he arrived at the airport in January, severely under-dressed, and the anxiety of living on his own for the first time. Delgado persevered, thriving both on and off the field.
“At first it was very difficult,” recalled the 20-year old Delgado. “Before, I lived with my family; they supported me. Now I have to pay bills, make my own food, all these things to survive. It was hard, but I've adapted. I'm growing up more and it gets easier. Now that my girlfriend is living with me, I'm not alone anymore.”
Delgado debuted for TFC mid-May in the Canadian Championship, but he did not taste MLS action until after he stood out with the United States at the FIFA U-20 World Cup. He finally made his MLS debut for Toronto on June 24, starting against Montreal in a 3-1 victory. All told, he has made 18 league appearances to date this season.
Putting up new career highs – goals, assists, minutes and starts – Delgado credits Greg Vanney and Robin Fraser, coaches familiar with him from their shared Chivas days, for that progress: “Their full support has helped me build to improve every day.”
A vital cog in a Toronto midfield that is trying to reach the playoffs for the first time in club history, his journey began the breadth of the continent away, in a sunny California town called Pomona.
Delgado first took to the field in what he described as “just a little Sunday league.”
“My parents would take me every weekend to my brother's games," Delgado said. “[I would] kick the ball around at halftime. The coach saw me, saw that I had a shot, a strong foot, and he asked my dad if I could play for his team. My dad, of course, said yes.”
At the age of 4, Delgado 'started playing with kids 2-3 years older."
In 2011, Delgado had established himself in the Southern California youth soccer scene and faced a difficult decision when it came time to join an MLS academy: Chivas USA or the LA Galaxy?
“I had a long talk with my parents about whether Galaxy or Chivas,” Delgado said. “I chose Chivas, at the end of the day.”
Although he signed with Chivas USA as a 16-year-old Homegrown Player in April 2012, it was at Galaxy matches that Delgado developed a taste for MLS.
“Playing in that Sunday league, we would get tickets from the Galaxy and see them play at the Rose Bowl,” explained Delgado. “That's where it started. I wanted to see myself on the field playing, because I saw the atmosphere and the fans cheering. It was like a big rush going through your body.”
Quickly establishing himself as a regular in 2013, Delgado relied on experience for his quick adjustment.
“Playing against other countries in the youth national teams really helped,” Deglado said. “I had the experience, not of playing with older men, but playing international soccer, and it's not easy, so making my debut wasn't such a big transition. I also had a lot of veterans there helping me out.”
The thrill of achieving his dream dissipated, however, when Chivas USA dissolved at the end of the 2014 season, leaving Delgado's future uncertain.
“It was hard to see that coming to an end,” remembered Delgado. “It was sad seeing friends losing jobs, teammates not knowing where they were going next. Me, being a young player, not knowing was very stressful. I was scared, because I didn't know if my career was ending there or if it would continue.”
Continue it would, reaching new heights.
Speaking in July after a dominant Delgado performance at central midfield for an absent Michael Bradley, Vanney recounted his qualities:
“I've known [Marky] for a number of years. He's always had the capacity to do an incredible amount of work on the field. He's a technical player, composed beyond his years; has very good technique. I honestly don't know how he dropped [to] where we were able to take him.
“At 19, now 20 years old, he already had 50-60 pro matches under his belt. At Chivas, he played almost all the time, played a couple positions, so he had some versatility. I knew he could help us. I didn't know how quickly it would be, but he's stepped in and done a great job.”
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That versatility has been useful for TFC, who have fielded him in at least three different roles – right midfield, right back and central midfield. Delgado, though eager to help out the team whenever and wherever, has his own vision: “My preferred position is a No. 8 midfielder, with more of a free role, not so much as the holding mid, a No. 6, that I played in the U-20 World Cup.”
New teammate Herculez Gomez says Delgado's experience and understanding of the game set him apart.
“He's got things at such a young age that take time to develop,” Gomez said. “[He's] calm on the ball, likes to go forward, but knows when to hold it, when to attack. I'm hoping Marky can break out here and go elsewhere, because he has that type of talent.”
After his starting role at the U-20 World Cup, Delgado is eager to break into the senior side: “That's the goal. The sooner, the better."
“Do I think he's going to be national team-caliber? Absolutely. But maybe we get ahead of ourselves,” proffered Gomez. “But does he have the talent? Absolutely.”