TORONTO – The cherry blossoms in Toronto's High Park may not bloom this spring, but one Japanese import seems to be right at home in his new locale on the shores of Lake Ontario.
Tsubasa Endoh, the 22-year old 9th-overall pick in the 2016 SuperDraft by Toronto FC, has impressed a quarter of the way into his rookie MLS season, making five starts, culminating in his first professional goal on Saturday against FC Dallas. And his play has drawn the admiration of his teammates.
“He's a young player, we have to continue to encourage him, work with him, but everybody sees now that he has a little bit more savvy, a little bit more understanding than your typical [college] player,” said TFC captain Michael Bradley. “We're happy to have him and we'll continue pushing him along.”
But it's not just in the Toronto locker that they're tracking his progress. They've also taken notice half a world away.
After training on Tuesday, Endoh shared a special message he received from back home in Japan: “The President of the Japanese Football Association called me and checked how I played. They've been following me. It's a good thing.”
And then there is his family.
“I think so, I hope [they were able to watch],” said Endoh after his goal. “I heard in Japan they can watch MLS. I'm pretty sure they've been following Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and stuff, so they'll know I had a goal.”
The transition to the pro level can be a challenge, but thus far Endoh has not been fazed. “It's obviously different than playing in college, it's more physical, it's faster. Everything is next level,” he said.
And having struggled through the acclimation to North America during his college years at Maryland, a quick hop across the border to Canada has been "good," requiring little adjustment. “I have great teammates, great staff, and great coaches, so it's not too hard for me to fit in this team.”
“I've been enjoying [Toronto],” Endoh said. “I haven't really explored the city yet, we'll see – in the summer.”
Whatever the changing seasons bring, that first goal will always be a memorable one. “Yes, I do [remember my first],” recalled fellow forward Jozy Altidore after the win over Dallas. “It was against the Columbus Crew and it was one of the best days of my career, of my life. So I know Tsubasa is enjoying it. And to score a first goal the way he did – it was very well taken – so I'm very happy for him, he deserves that.”
“It was a buzz for me,” reflected Endoh, “but the focus is on next Saturday. I have to keep playing well and prove myself.”