ORLANDO – When Minnesota United drafted Mason Toye No. 7 overall not quite two months ago, the intention was to add a young third-string forward who could learn from top strikers Christian Ramirez and Abu Danladi.
So it was a little surprising to see the 19-year-old make his MLS debut in only the second game of his rookie season, Saturday night’s 2-1 victory at Orlando City.
“I’m not going to lie, the first couple minutes, I was just trying to get a grasp on the game,” Toye said of his nerves after replacing Ramirez for the final 20 minutes. “But once I was able to do that, I was just trying to bring energy.”
The rookie’s debut came after Danladi suffered a hamstring injury in the season opener at San Jose a week ago and did not travel with the team to Orlando because of it. Ramirez started and played through an ankle injury he also picked up in the opener, but he was “shattered” at the end of the game, according to coach Adrian Heath, and Toye provided fresh legs and speed.
Toye was the last of United’s three substitutes and played a big role in Ethan Finlay’s winning goal with about 10 minutes left. Winger Miguel Ibarra and midfielder Collen Warner had come on earlier in the second half, replacing injured Sam Nicholson and Kevin Molino, respectively.
“I knew [Jerome Thiesson] was looking for options, so I went and checked into a hole,” Toye said. “I saw [Ibarra] already running forward, so I just knew I had to flick it on for him and give him space to run into. … [Ibarra] did a great job of getting his head up and finding Ethan at the back post. There you go. Game-winner.”
Toye did have a bit of a rookie moment toward the end of the game when the Indiana University product picked up a yellow card for diving when trying to draw a penalty. Heath said that was a bit “silly” on Toye’s part, but the striker has “enormous” talent and a lot of work to do to hone it.
“I saw the keeper come out, so I went around him, and [he] stuck his arm out. I felt him touch me a little, but looking back on it, I probably should have stayed on my feet,” Toye said. “Maybe another day, I stay up, and the ball is in the back of the net. But you move on, and I’ll learn from it.”
Overall, the depth the Loons showed in the victory is a vast improvement from last season.
“Collen comes in, plays some big minutes right off the bench, getting thrown into a game that’s 100 miles an hour,” Finlay said. “Mason came in, made a difference. Didn’t get on the score sheet, probably had some looks, too. But I thought his work ethic was great. It was 11 guys plus subs coming in to make a difference, grinding one out on the road.”
Nicholson said that is a product of a year’s experience.
“Everyone wants to play. Everyone knows what to do when they’re on the pitch,” he said. “It’s good collectively. As a squad, we’re a lot closer than we were last year. Everyone’s happy for each other when they play well, when we win.”