The Toronto FC coaching staff have been working with young forward Jordan Hamilton to be more of a … well, it starts with a P and rhymes with “trick.”
Head coach Greg Vanney believes that Hamilton has all the skills to be an outstanding pro at the MLS level. However, what the 23-year-old Scarborough native needs more than anything to up his game, said Vanney, is to develop a little more consistency and play with more of an edge, a little more snarl.
“He’s an easy-going guy, easy to like,” Vanney said. “But sometimes I think strikers need an edge, a little bit of selfish nastiness and fearlessness that you have to have because you know (opposition) centre backs are trying to get a piece of you, trying to disrupt you and you’ve got to have that little bit of nastiness to fight back and protect yourself and be able to give it back here and there.
“That doesn’t come naturally to him,” the coach said. “I think it’s something as Jordan gets older he’s realizing and appreciating what it takes to be successful. He’s adding (that edge) and the place you add it in is on the training grounds because then it becomes a habit and a part of who are and then it just becomes natural when you’re on the game field.”
Vanney has been talking quite a bit about Hamilton lately — and why not?
A regular with the TFC first team since 2016, the personable striker has been absolutely dynamite for the Reds this season, scoring three goals in MLS play in 159 minutes, including a brace picked up in a 4-3 come-from-behind victory over Minnesota United last Friday at BMO Field. His second goal was the game-winner. Hamilton also scored in Champions League play earlier this season.
And now with starting forward Jozy Altidore gone for 2-3 weeks with a strained hamstring, it’s expected that Hamilton’s minutes will increase and perhaps he’ll be in the starting XI for every game while Altidore is gone — starting with Saturday afternoon’s match against the Portland Timbers at BMO Field.
From talking to Hamilton, it’s clear that he isn’t an abrasive, in-your-face kind of guy. But he has scored at every level he has played at and understands fully where Vanney is coming from.
“I’ve definitely worked on my mentality and my mental approach to the games and I said it after my first appearance of the year against the Panamanian team (in Champions League). I said it was ‘kill or be killed.’ That’s my motto for the year,” he said. “I don’t think you can turn up on a game day and just become nasty. It comes from being in the gym every day, training hard every day and that way when you get into the game it’s almost natural. I’ve been in the gym every day with our fitness trainer in the morning and after practice for the first time in my career and I’m really noticing the difference every time I get on the field.”
Besides adding some nastiness to his game, Vanney is looking for more consistency from Hamilton, though he admits it’s hard to pick apart a guy’s game when whenever he comes into a match, he scores.
“In bursts, he’s come in and proven that he can get himself in good goalscoring positions and score goals,” Vanney said. “(But) the progress I want him to make is to show that he can be a 90-minute player game after game. And then he’ll have crossed the bridge from being a good young player with a lot of potential, to being a real pro and a guy you can rely on. And I think that’s the next step for Jordan. But he’s making progress.”
Hamilton has no problem with Vanney’s assessments.
“I want to take the next step and not just be the spot player who scores when he’s getting his opportunity,” he said. “I want to be relied upon. That’s the pressure I’ve put on myself. I think I’ve risen to the challenge so far but it’s just the beginning.”
There is a lot of pressure on Hamilton this season. Even though he’s still only 23, Vanney said that he no longer considers the Canadian a “young player”. Certainly, Hamilton has been around the club since joining the Academy as a teenager but when you’re not considered a young player anymore, there’s less forgiveness, less patience from the coach and front office when you don’t play to expectations.
“Greg hasn’t even had to tell me that. I’ve placed that pressure on myself,” Hamilton said. “From Day 1 (this season), I came in and just had a different approach. I’m going to push my hardest every day and bring the best out of myself so that come game day, whether I get 90 minutes or 45 minutes or 30 minutes, I’m going to make an impression on the field.”
Vanney acknowledged that it hasn’t been easy for young forwards on TFC the past few years to prove themselves with the likes of Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco getting the lion’s share of the minutes. That’s made it tough for all the club’s young forwards, including Hamilton and 19-year-old Ayo Akinola.
“It’s a challenge,” Vanney admitted.
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