ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – If it seems like a while since Toronto FC forward Jordan Hamilton was scoring the fastest goal in the USL’s history – at least among attacking players – that’s because it was.
Back then, the rookie was just beginning his ascent into the professional ranks on loan with Wilmington Hammerheads FC, for which he scored 18 seconds into its game on May 23, 2014 against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
Now the 20-year-old is moving into his fourth professional season after recording five goals in 18 overall appearances for Toronto in 2016, and could be on the cusp of an even bigger breakthrough. At a club like defending MLS Eastern Conference champion TFC, though, the fight for minutes with the likes of U.S. international Jozy Altidore at the top of the depth chart continues to be an uphill one.
Hamilton, for his part, is philosophical about his situation.
“It’s the life of a young pro on a big team,” Hamilton said, “but they say the cream always rises to the top, so if I’m the cream I’ll be there one day.”
Hamilton’s performances have certainly indicated he has begun to dig deeper into the potential that saw him signed to an MLS deal at such a young age. One of MLSSoccer.com’s 10 Canadian players to watch this season alongside the likes of Jay Chapman, Anthony Jackson-Hamel and Alphonso Davies – all of whom have also seen time in the USL – Hamilton’s eye for goal and ability to stretch defenses is a welcome weapon for TFC Head Coach Greg Vanney.
“He clearly gets into games and can create some opportunities for himself,” said Vanney. “For me, Jordan has a continuing maturation process to fit within the team and the structure of the team so that the team can help him get goals, and he can get goals through team play, and maybe even set up some guys.
“We saw [on Saturday in preseason against the Chicago Fire] there were a couple of opportunities where he could have laid it off to somebody else for a good look. Instead, he took the extra touch and tried to score himself. It’s little things like that that he’ll continue to mature with, but he has the physical tools to be successful.”
Having players like Altidore, and the likes of Sebastian Giovinco and Tosaint Ricketts – who Vanney compares Hamilton’s skill-set to – to work alongside has also proven beneficial for Hamilton. Competing alongside the trio of internationals gives Hamilton a high bar to aim for when it comes to earning playing time.
“It’s good to have that to chase and work hard every day to be better than,” Hamilton said. “Obviously, they’re great players and we wouldn’t be where we are without them, but I think I can really contribute to any team and score goals. That’s my job.”
Hamilton’s ability to find the net made him a regular for the Canadian U20 National Team two years ago, when he scored three goals at the 2015 CONCACAF U20 Championship. Now with Canada’s full national team starting to turn its roster over and bring in some fresh blood – including his contemporary on that team in Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s Marco Bustos, plus the likes of Chapman and Jackson-Hamel – the opportunity could soon arrive for Hamilton to make an impact for his country.
Vanney believes players like Hamilton should be on the radar, but the key for the striker will be to make as big an impression as possible if the chance appears.
“One way or the other, he’s got a knack for finding the goal,” said Vanney. “Players as young as Jordan, with as much upside as Jordan, should always be on the radar. The guys should always have opportunities at the right times to continue to grow and learn what the international game is all about, but Jordan has to prove that time and time again in terms of when he gets opportunities as a player.
“Whether it’s with TFC II or TFC or when he gets called into national teams, he’s got to get on the training field. He’s got to prove it day-in and day-out to get that kind of respect from the national team staff.”
With this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup the next major landing point for the national team, Hamilton is hopeful he can one day, and maybe soon, emulate the heroes he watched growing up on the international stage.
“I grew up watching the Gold Cup. I used to go to all the Canada games at BMO Field as a kid, so it would be a dream come true to play at the Gold Cup and do well,” he said. “I remember watching when they did so well and [Julian] De Guzman was named MVP, and that’s one thing I want to do one time in my life for Canada.”