Ijah Halley saw the writing on the wall when it came to his long-term future with Toronto FC.
While in grade 11, the native of Brampton, Ont., was playing in a local showcase game when a TFC youth coach noticed him and recommended him for their academy.
Although skeptical of the offer at first, Halley eventually recognized it would be a good move in terms of his development as a player to be a part of the MLS team’s youth system.
After training with TFC’s academy in 2017, he was officially named to the roster in 2018 and featured for the Reds’ under-17 and under-19 sides over the next two years. He even featured for TFC II, the MLS outfit’s USL farm team, for pre-season and exhibition games.
Halley felt he was making progress, but when York9 FC reached out this winter and offered him his first professional contract and an opportunity to play in the Canadian Premier League, the 18-year-old winger decided it was time to move on. Halley officially signed with the Nine Stripes last month, bringing an end to his tenure with the TFC academy.
Why did he leave? Why didn’t he stay in the TFC youth system, and work his way towards possibly earning a contract with Toronto FC and a chance to play in MLS?
Halley felt that with so many talented and experienced wingers on TFC’s senior team at the moment, he had to leave and come to the CPL in order to be given the opportunity to play pro soccer.
“I have nothing bad to say about Toronto FC, but there’s a lot of competition at the club. I’m not afraid of competition, but I felt like as a young player I had to go somewhere else where I could get a certain amount of playing time and develop as a player,” Halley told CanPL.ca.
“TFC academy was a great fit but ultimately, the first team has a lot of wingers, so at the end of the day, I had to look at what’s best for my career. Everybody’s dream is to play top flight football, and TFC have a lot of young wingers, so I had to make the best decision for myself. York9 was willing to give me that opportunity. They have a very good team and give local talent a chance, so I said why not?”
After sending an email to TFC about his decision to leave the academy, Halley had phone conversations with general manager Ali Curtis and academy director Anthony Capotosto, who both tried to offer solutions in order for him to stay. But the youngster had made up his mind.
“Y9 was a better opportunity for me, and I spoke to both of them and told them how I felt. They thanked me for my service, and said I would always be a member of the TFC family. They were happy for me, and even wished me the best for my career. There was no bad blood at all, and it was god sending off,” Halley offered.
“That was my first professional environment, and without them I wouldn’t be where I am today, so there’s no ill feelings on my part.”
Indeed, Halley credits former TFC academy coaches Danny Dichio and Benoit Cheyrou for all the guidance they provided him, and feels their tutelage sets him up for success when he begins his professional career with York9.
“Playing under Benoit was a great experience. He really made me comfortable and helped me express myself on the pitch and not to be afraid to take players on 1v1,” Halley explained.
“Danny helped me understand the game from a more tactical point of view. Before I went to the TFC academy, I wasn’t very tactically aware, and Danny helped me understand tactics. They both really helped to elevate my game to the next level.”
Check back with CanPL.ca next week, as we’ll have another feature story on Ijah Halley.