A Chat With The Canadian Premier League’s Youngest Pro
In just a few short days, the Canadian Premier League’s youngest professional will be representing Canada at the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
Having scored against Argentina in a tune-up tilt ahead of the renowned youth tournament, the invite comes as a milestone moment for 16-year-old TJ Tahid. This year saw him go from an unsigned 15-year-old to a fully-fledged professional earning good minutes in Canada’s top flight.
The Maple Ridge youngster had never featured in an MLS Academy, but thanks to the CPL and a keen eye from Vancouver FC gaffer Afshin Ghotbi, he’s now wrapped his rookie season of club football with 20 professional appearances and three goals to boot.
“Having the platform to showcase myself for lots of people all around the world to see, I’m very grateful for that,” says the 16-year-old himself.
“I just knew I had to work as hard as I could and keep working to achieve my dream – and yeah, I haven’t got my big dream yet, but I’m stepping up.”
When he began trialing with the club months before they would kick their first ball in a competitive match, Tahid didn’t look out of place competing against the frames and talents of athletes in camp, some of whom were ten years his senior – nor did he let them know his age, something which caught those who found out later by total surprise.
Make no mistake, however: TJ Tahid had the drive to rise above a significant age gap and draw in the eye of head coach Afshin Ghotbi, a veteran head coach who once found himself 90 minutes away from a World Cup final. So when he said young TJ had what it takes to reach the highest level of the game, the club took notice – though they had to delay his signing till he turned 16, when he became the youngest pro to grace Canada’s top flight.
“It was a pretty big change from what I was used to, but I feel like I adapted really fast and I enjoy it now. The high level high pace competition, it’s really fun,” reflects Tahid on his first season.
The young man has left some big impressions on those around the squad, including his very own captain. Callum Irving has seen and done a lot in his career, but who’d have thought he’d see another Antoine Coupland spring up in front of his eyes? Irving didn’t, but he likes what he’s seen from Vancouver FC’s youngest.
“He doesn’t say a whole lot, but he’s very assured in what he does and what he wants. When he got that contract when he turned 16, it wasn’t for no reason: he had earned it fully throughout preseason and training. He just had that mentality of just wanting to be there, and wanting to show it every single day,” reflected Callum.
“I always tell the young guys you don’t just get given things in the professional game, you have to earn them. TJ is one of the examples of just that – he has earned it.”
Quick to echo that sentiment was flashy midfielder Gabriel Bitar, who recorded six goals and five assists throughout the season. One of those assists was for TJ Tahid’s first goal, which is a moment the youngster will always carry with him.
“It’s rare to see a 16-year-old with that much maturity,” adds Bitar. “You would think he’s 25. He’s really growing into himself and getting more confidence day in and day out. I think just playing at this level kind of pushed him ahead of his years. Physically, he’s there. Technically, he’s there. I think he just needs to establish himself and I think next year can be a very big year for him.”
While some youngsters struggle with the tactical mindset of the professional game and the sheer physicality of the league, Tahid hasn’t looked out of place: he found a great rhythm in the Vancouver FC squad and looks to have many wonderful years of pro football ahead of him.
“I hope that I can show I can show the world that there are exceptional talents here in the Lower Mainland,” adds Tahid. “They can come look, and they’ll see the quality.”
Next season, Tahid aims to pick up right where he left of this year, while increasing his contributions to the team. While this season ended with the club missing playoffs, they then proceeded to win three of their last four as things finally began to click. Before the opportunity for brighter pastures comes in 2024, however, the youngster has a little thing called the FIFA U-17 World Cup to contend with.
After making history as both the league’s youngest player on a fully professional contract and it’s youngest goalscorer, Tahid made good on his first Canada U-17 call-up by featuring in back-to-back friendlies against Brazil. While Les Rouges lost out against the high-profile opponents, his first foray into international football left him hungry for more, and national team brass are keen to give it to him.
“It was a very good experience, especially getting to know the guys that I’ll be playing with,” said the Maple Ridge native. “Getting to know how the team plays, adapting into their system, and helping them as much as I possibly can.”
Having impressed head coach Andrew Olivieri, it wasn’t long after his first camp invite that TJ Tahid was included in Canada’s official FIFA U-17 World Cup roster set to take kick off this weekend in Indonesia. Scoring against Argentina in the lead-up to the big event, he just might prove to be a head-turner on the national youth stage.
While he’s still eligible for Ghana for his father, right now his focus is locked in on the country calling him up.
“It’s another another very proud moment,” reflected the teenager. “and now I know the guys there, and we all have one mission: we just have to fight and go to war.”
Header Image Photo Credit: Beau Chavalier