From the moment it started out in the Canadian Premier League, Vancouver FC wanted to set itself apart from the other teams by putting a huge emphasis on youth. With only two players over the age of 25, it is both a gamble and a statement, but one that everyone seems to be behind on.
Nevertheless, no-one expected that such a philosophy would allow the opportunity for a 16-year-old local kid to take the stage in a CPL match. But that was exactly what happened when Taryck “TJ” Tahid came on for Vancouver in their inaugural home-opener against Cavalry earlier this month. The moment he was announced the day before, many onlookers, such as myself, were intrigued by the decision. Is 16 years old a bit too young to be able to throw them into a match? But seeing his confidence and composure in his brief cameo, we began to understand why it was that he was given the opportunity to shine.
The record-breaker for youngest player to feature in the league gave a performance that matched that of professional players who are 5-10 years his senior. His performance was even applauded by his coach, who complimented his mentality, stating that he could “play in front of 100,000 fans in the World Cup and [still] play the way he did”. Quite the plaudits for a youngster who is still in high school.
Now, a couple weeks later, I sat down with TJ to talk about his stellar debut and his journey to it, as well as his upbringing and his dreams. With a long career ahead of him, and the sky as his limit, it might not be long before TJ becomes more well-known across the country, and perhaps across the pond.
From Watching Arsenal to Trialling in Europe
TJ grew up in a Ghanian-Canadian household in Maple Ridge, BC. It was a house whose love of football was founded in the English Premier League team of Arsenal. TJ’s father in particular was the one who ensured that TJ would continue that love of the game, both by helping him watch and play it.
“Every weekend, my dad would wake me up early in the morning so we could go watch the Arsenal game,” Tahid told AFTN. “Then after the game, we would go the backyard to do some training, like passing and shooting”.
One particular teaching that stuck with TJ was the idolization of one of Arsenal’s greatest in Thierry Henry, a player that “every generation teaches their kids about”. But there was one other player who caught TJ’s eyes when he was young.
“I watched many hours of Thierry Henry growing up, but in my time, Alexis Sanchez was my favourite player. I wore 17 because of him and tried to do everything he did on the pitch”.
It might then not surprise you that TJ started out his football development as a winger/forward. But according to TJ, it was not necessarily because of his influences, but rather his own physical advantages.
“I’ve always been the fastest and strongest in my age group… so for being a winger that definitely helps”.
And while his speed and strengths were definitely some prime assets for his game, it was his own football intelligence that allowed him to stand out and even prompted him to move into the midfield.
“Compared to other players, I saw that my technical abilities allowed me to play in the middle as that playmaker,” he said. “Having played as a winger and forward, [it gave me] that intelligence to know where, when and how to pass to the forwards”.
With a switch into the midfield, TJ’s career started to fast track as he started to get more and more opportunities to learn and grow, even including some trials in Europe and in the MLS. TJ attended some trial sessions for big teams like Villarreal in Spain and FC Midtjylland in Denmark, an experience he thinks has helped him immensely
“Going to different countries and playing with and against different kinds of players, it helps build up that football intelligence,” TJ feels. “You get to learn from [these] different kind of players and their skills. I feel like going around the world, playing against all those guys, really helped with my experience.”
It is then no wonder that he has been able to adapt to the league so quickly, after spending much of his football life travelling across the world to improve his game.
Stepping up to the big leagues came naturally
Now, at 16, TJ has become the modern version of a football player, in that he has developed his game not to just thrive in one position, but in many. A self-described “versatile player”, this mould is becoming more and more popular and important at the higher level, something that will definitely boost his popularity as his career progresses.
And perhaps there was then no better team for him to join that of Afshin Ghotbi’s Vancouver FC, as we have seen that Ghotbi is not afraid to experiment and move players around to adapt to certain situations. Maybe this was then why Ghotbi was so eager to get TJ into the squad, and onto the pitch.
On his new coach, TJ tells it as it is: “He just keeps it real. He has a good vibe to him, he knows how to read and handle the room. He has really helped me to exceed in my tactical, technical, physical and even mental part of my game”.
It is that last part that has impressed me the most, as there have been plenty of stories of players being thrust into the spotlight way too young and it damaging their football trajectory, but for TJ, it looks to be a different story
“I am a person that knows that I need to stay grounded. I [luckily] have all these people around me, like my coaches, that help me by telling me to ‘be humble’, and ‘don’t get ahead of yourself’”.
Such was TJ’s own self-discipline and confidence that when he got to the team, many of his teammates didn’t even know that he was 16. “They just treated me like everyone else”.
Another factor that favours TJ in his journey is that he has been able to get such an opportunity as to play for a professional side, just outside his hometown. Many players in the past have had to leave everything behind to go and pursue their dreams, but for TJ, he can continue to have the same support group that have helped him all this way, something he thinks can help many players that will come after him.
“It’s amazing because it also helps the club, having all these people [who’ve supported me] to come and watch the games,” TJ told us. “It’s also another pathway for the other kids in the Lower Mainland to grow and become pro”.
Work hard now to dream big later
Now as the league’s youngest pro, having already made his few couple appearances for the club, TJ is focused on what’s ahead.
“My goal is to help the team as much as possible, whether I play or not. When I’m on the field, I want to give it 100% and help all the other guys around me”
And while his future for now is with Vancouver FC, TJ, like any other young player, is dreaming big. He hopes to don on the red and white colours of his childhood team over across the Atlantic.
“My goal is to play for Arsenal, and I hope to see myself play in Europe in the next few years, whether its in England, UK or anywhere else in Europe.”
Chances may come for him sooner rather than later, not just for his club life but his national team career, as he is eligible to play for the Canada’s U17 team that just qualified for the U17 World Cup. It is an opportunity that has yet to be discussed, but one that he is more than open to.
But for now, TJ is in a wonderful spot for his career. Surrounded by a loving family that continues to support him, and playing for a team that embodies the right philosophy for his development, TJ has the world as his oyster.
And it might not be long before other local kids will be woken up early to go see him play on the TV, and spur them on to go achieve something greater.