The notion of potential is a radiant, yet elusive phenomenon. Though at times, potential feels like fate, it's never a linear progression to the top and often never quite fulfills our insatiable hopes and dreams.
Yet we'll never stop coming back whenever we detect the abstract trait. Particularly in the game of soccer, where young players continue to shatter expectations early, stars are born.
The American received a call-up to the U.S. U-23 national team last week, the first time he's been involved with the national team at any level. A few days later, Toye went on the road with Minnesota and scored a breathtaking brace against LAFC, pulling the Loons to a 2-0 win. It was LAFC's first home loss in MLS this season.
Toye now has 6g/3a in 492 MLS minutes this season, plus another two goals in the Loons' run to the U.S. Open Cup final. He started the season on loan with Forward Madison in USL League One and now he's thought of as one of the country's brightest young attackers. After his brace against LAFC, shouts for Toye to skip the U-23 camp and head straight to the senior team proliferated Twitter. The hype train had long left the station, picking up steam.
There's a long way to go in his nascent career, a lot of work to be done to ensure growth as well as more ups and downs to follow, but he's a legit prospect now. Here are five reasons to be excited about Toye.
The least flashy part of his game, Toye's movement and poacher's mentality gave him the ability to play at the senior level. How many players his age have similar technical and physical assets that haven't yet sharpened the off-ball portion of their skillset?
Watch this goal below: He smartly peels to the back shoulder of his defender, staying active and giving Kevin Molino another option. As Molino's body shape and cues signal the ball is about to be played, Toye picks up his speed so he'll arrive first at the cross before the stagnant defender. Notice on the second viewing that he picked up speed twice, the first being on Molino's prep touch in which he had half a second to deliver an earlier cross.
Outside of the movement: It was an awesome assist and awesome finish, too. But the play is something expected of a professional forward. He's not just running in behind when he sees space, or pouncing on obvious crosses or tap-ins.
I'm sure you could break down a number of his goals like that, or any in the league for that matter, it's not a unique pattern. Success is found in the boring, mundane stuff.
For all the necessary advantages that movement and instinct can yield, forwards need to finish once in those situations. In the embryonic stages of his senior professional career, Toye is excelling in the most valuable trait in soccer: Actually scoring goals.
Perhaps Toye's best two finishes came against LAFC, two absolute bangers, but he's scored a few breakaway goals as well as a few poacher's tap-ins.
One thing that's next on his development, though, is continuing to diversify the types of goals he scores. He already split the goals between both feet evenly (three right-footed finishes, three left) but more goals between tap-ins and those highlight-reel strikes. The mundane ones from 12-18 yards out, or the hard runs to the near post with a first-time finish, etc.
Maybe he already has that under his belt, we just haven't seen it given he's played just 492 MLS minutes this season, but it's something to watch on his ascent.
We all see on the field the number of runs on both sides of the ball Toye makes. But behind closed doors when few are watching is where work ethic truly kicks in.
“I’m a big believer that you get out of life what you put in it," head coach Adrian Heath explained. "This is a kid who continually wants to work hard at his game, working hard at his craft. We have to bring him off the training ground, literally we have to bring him in and tell him to save his energy and save his legs because he just wants to keep working away and trying to get better.
"Nobody wants to be a star more than Mason Toye, trust me,” Heath added, “and he’s going to put all the hours in it takes to get himself there.”
Our very own Bobby Warshaw has his own anecdote on that front, too:
"At the combine last year, we did a film session with a few players. We pulled a few clips from their combine games and broke them down with the individual players. The videos were horrible and I don't even remember exactly what we did with Toye, but after we finished with him, he stayed behind to look at the clips a few more times and talk about them. He had no idea who I was, but he was down to soccer and discuss little details."
Confidence, celebrations and excitement
Toye is a confident young fella and boy, is it fun.
He already has a signature celebration, a suave dance in front of the corner flag. Imagine this in a competitive national team game? Imagine this at Azteca? *gasps*
The aura he gives off while celebrating goals extends to interviews, too.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” Toye said of scoring that brace against LAFC. “I work really hard in training and I’ve been doing it for as long as I’ve been here so I think I’ve been putting in the work and it’s showing the fruits of my labor here to be scoring these goals the way I’ve been doing them.”
The most exciting part about Toye? He's far from a finished product. We get to watch what's next in front of our eyes, in our league. That's fun.
It's also fun to project lofty potential and imagine what it might look like. A nice exercise of hope is to extrapolate what he offers now and envision what comes in his prime. It's a tried and tested pastime of soccer viewing.
Toye is one among a number of highly-talented young attackers moving into the U.S. men's national team picture, with Josh Sargent, Sebastian Soto, Tim Weah and others age 20 or under.