TORONTO – The 401 Derby has an explosive history, especially in the Canadian Championship. Players on both Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact have seen a lot of each other over the years, and there’s plenty of animosity because of it.
For someone such as TFC right-back Richie Laryea, though, it’s all new.
The 24-year-old Toronto native has burst onto the scene for both TFC and the Canadian men’s side in the past six months, as he’s shattered his career high in appearances and earned a pair of starts at September’s national team camp.
“It’s been a crazy year for me, compared to what it was last year,” Laryea told reporters after TFC’s practice on Tuesday.
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With how quickly things have come together for him, Laryea is riding a huge wave of confidence, walking straight into the starting 11 for both national team matches this month. Indeed, Canadian boss John Herdman singled him out ahead of their home game against Cuba, waxing poetic about the energy Laryea brought to his first senior camp.
After spending the last two seasons in a limited bench role at Orlando City, Laryea has finally begun winning starting minutes after making the move to Toronto FC. With 16 MLS starts for Laryea in 2019, he’s dwarfed the three he collected across two seasons with Orlando.
Laryea has seen the pitch in all three matchups between TFC and the Montreal Impact this season, including all 90 minutes in last Wednesday’s first leg of the Canadian Championship Final. As a Canadian player in top form, it’s very likely he’ll play a part in Wednesday’s second leg at BMO Field (7:30 p.m., available on OneSoccer).
Ahead of the game, he explained how much he’s enjoying his role in the latest chapter of one of North American soccer’s most exciting rivalries.
“I anticipate the game (on Wednesday) being crazy for sure,” he said. “It’s a rivalry I didn’t know a whole lot about until I played in it this year. The fans don’t like each other, the teams get heated when we play each other. It’s two cities that want to be better than each other. I’m sure tomorrow will be that and so much more.”
A former first-round MLS SuperDraft pick (taken seventh by Orlando in 2016, just a few spots ahead of Cavalry FC’s Julian Büscher), Laryea hasn’t been able to fully establish himself in MLS until now. Orlando declined his contract option in 2018, so TFC took a flyer on him in pre-season this year.
Laryea played his youth soccer at Sigma FC, the Mississauga-based academy that’s produced many of this season’s CPL players. He explained that with the expansion of this year’s Canadian Championship he’s been pleased to see the new opportunities for players coming up behind him.
“It’s amazing, when you see the talent that’s coming through within the teams and the Canadians themselves, it’s obviously not where it was when I was younger,” Laryea said. “It’s nice to see the growth from Canada Soccer.”
The Canadian Championship is, of course, both the culmination of a difficult campaign and the first step in another. Laryea echoed his coach Greg Vanney’s sentiments about how much he’d like to win the Voyageurs Cup, adding that he’s also mindful of the CONCACAF Champions League spot on the line.
TFC fell to Panamanian side Independiente in the first round of this year’s Champions League, after advancing to the final of the 2018 edition. Laryea suggested that they’d like to return to the top of their continental competition.
“I watched the (CCL) run that the team went on last year, and we’ve spoken about it. It’s something all of us want to win,” he said. “They were very close to doing it last year, and it’s the only thing that’s left for this club to achieve. I think it’s a big priority for us within this club. Tomorrow’s a great day to win and get ourselves back into that equation again.”