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Ibrahim continues to impress Carver
April 17, 2009, 7:23 AM
Filed under: Fuad Ibrahim, Toronto FC

What a difference a year has made for highly touted 17-year-old Toronto FC midfield prospect Fuad Ibrahim.

During a miserable stretch last July when injuries and international call-ups forced Toronto coach John Carver to look way down his bench he once lamented that he was being “forced” to employ the services of a skillful, but relatively unknown, 16-year-old diamond in the rough.

Now with Carver’s Reds at full strength and relatively injury-free, Ibrahim is glistening like a polished gem bathed in brilliant spring sunshine.

The speedy attacking midfielder earned himself a spot in coach Carver’s starting 11 and also logged his first minutes of the 2009 season during last Saturday’s 1-1 tie with FC Dallas at BMO Field.

“He covered the most distance of anyone out there — he worked the hardest of anybody on our team but sort of hit the wall after the 70th minute,” said Carver. “When you have players who are prepared to press, it creates energy on the team and is contagious.

“I put him into the situation because he was the best person available for us and that says a great deal about his development.”

A natural right-footed striker, Ibrahim played as a left midfielder in the first game the Reds home-and-home series against Dallas.

He quickly proved he is equally adept at defending and breaking up the FCD attack while even creating a few chances in front of the visitors’ goal.

“It was good to get in there and show them that I am back,” said Ibrahim. “I think we did better as a team than the previous week [a 2-0 loss to Seattle] and were happy to get a point against a FC Dallas side who were desperate to earn their first result of the season.”

The Ethiopian-born Ibrahim, a member of the United States under-20 national team program, was selected 14th overall in the 2007 SuperDraft by FC Dallas.

His arrival in the league made him the second youngest player ever selected in the draft since a 14-year-old Freddy Adu was chosen by D.C. United in 2004.

He then made his way to Toronto from the FC Dallas reserve squad last June in exchange for a 2010 conditional draft pick.

Ibrahim made an immediate impact, scoring just 18 minutes into his first MLS match last July at Toyota Park against the Chicago Fire, a 2-1 loss where Toronto pressed for an equalizer.

“He came into our match against Chicago and gave us a new lease on life,” said Carver. “Everything he did in that game was instrumental in our turnaround [during the game]. The fact that he got his first goal in his first league game and could have scored another is quite exciting.”

Carver understands that all younger players in professional soccer often go through a sharp learning curve.

Aside from adjusting to brute force and physical play associated with the professional game and playing against grown men, the talented teenager has also made a huge mental leap in his development in the past year.

Carver, a former Newcastle assistant coach before joining Toronto in 2008, believes that Ibrahim might have reached a mental plateau during his debut match last summer. He feels Ibrahim then suffered a not uncommon setback in his psyche younger players often endure.

“In the offseason everything went — his speed, coordination and even his conditioning — but I wasn’t bothered about that,” said Carver. “He even got left off the United States U-20 team but he hasn’t been discouraged and has been gradually been improving.”

Both player and coach are well aware of the battle in first-team soccer and the need to be mentally prepared for every match takes complete focus.

“You have to be patient and wait for your chance and show the coach in practice and training that you want to be on the field,” said Ibrahim.

His determination has also caught the attention of several veteran players on the team, including Welsh international midfielder Carl Robinson.

Robinson has been with Toronto since their inaugural 2007 season and like other veterans on the team has helped encourage Ibrahim to stay the course.

“He has great potential, he is still young but has all the attributes to be a great player: pace and a very good mind for soccer,” said Robinson. “He also has a good natural instinct in front of goal and more importantly pace — and that is what defenders hate playing against. He is willing to listen and is forever asking questions and wanting to learn more.”

Ibrahim was replaced by Toronto’s usual left midfield starter Rohan Ricketts in the 75th minute of last week’s game.

While it is still unclear whether Ibrahim will start Sunday’s return match at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas, if he doesn’t he will still likely be one of the first substitutes Carver looks to on the bench if his Reds are looking for a lift or spark.

One thing is certain: Ibrahim has matured greatly since his debut last season and is ready to make a bigger contribution to the team.

“I just feel a lot more confidence than last year and it is good to be surrounded by veterans on the team who care about you and want to help you learn and move forward,” Ibrahim said.

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