TORONTO - Everything is new these days for Toronto FC's Tyrese Spicer, from scoring his first MLS goal to seeing himself in a video game.

And the rookie wingback from Trinidad and Tobago can't stop smiling. The 23-year-old is enjoying Toronto on and off the field.

“It's been really good,” he said in his lilting accent. “I think I've really adapted to the culture here. It's a very multicultural place, Toronto. I really like it.”

Spicer, the first overall pick in the 2024 MLS SuperDraft, made his TFC debut off the bench in a 2-1 loss at New York City FC on March 16. A week later, he scored 35 minutes into his first start, a 2-0 win over Atlanta United at BMO Field.

Cutting off the left wing, Spicer drifted towards the penalty box and, taking a pass from Deandre Kerr, accelerated past a defender and beat Brad Guzan with a low shot to the corner.

He then raced towards the Toronto bench, hugging coach John Herdman and teammates after a celebratory knee slide.

“He will start developing a new threat level for us because when you've got that level of pace, teams have to respect that,” Herdman said after the game.

Spicer's transition to Major League Soccer means he is now playable in “EA Sports FC 24,” the latest instalment of the hit video game franchise he has played since childhood.

“I checked it,” said Spicer, who rates his gaming skills “pretty decent.”

“But they did me a little dirty, though. The pace (rating),” he added, shaking his head. “They haven't got it (right). I think I need to play more games for them to up the stats.”

EA could have asked Charles Morrow, Spicer's coach at Lipscomb University about his speed.

“I've never seen anything like it … He can fly. he can absolutely fly. And it's effortless as well. It looks like the old Michael Johnson over 200 metres,” Morrow said, referencing the former track star, when Spicer was drafted in December. “He glides. It's something to see, for sure.”

In Toronto, Spicer has been slowed of late by a sore big toe, the legacy of a small fracture suffered in November at Lipscomb, forcing him to see a specialist and sit out last weekend's 3-2 loss at Charlotte FC.

“It's feeling way better now,” Spicer said this week after a regimen of rest, ice and anti-inflammatories.

The toe also delayed Spicer's debut until the fourth game of the season, a 15-minute cameo off the bench in a 2-1 loss to NYCFC at Yankee Stadium.

“I didn't know it was so big,” he marvelled of the stadium in the Bronx.

Morrow attended the NYCFC game, along with some New York-based relatives. Spicer gifted his jersey to Morrow after the game “because he really helped me out. He was the one who brought me to America.”

Spicer followed two other Trinidad players to Lipscomb, a private Christian college in Nashville with some 4,700 students. They saw him playing back home and told Morrow about him.

He played at wide forward at Lipscomb, leaving as a United Soccer Coaches first-team all-American, a MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist and the Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year.

These days Spicer lives by myself near TFC's north Toronto training centre, opting to minimize time in city traffic. He doesn't have a car yet so gets around by Uber.

While he has made a few forays downtown - he's already found a nearby restaurant for curried chicken and goat - he acknowledges there's plenty more to learn.

“I need to explore more. I think I'll wait until the summer though because it's too cold right now,” said the native of Trincity, Trinidad, some 4,050 kilometres south of Toronto.

“The first time I came here is probably the third time I've seen snow in my life,” he added, referencing his January arrival in Toronto. “Now I'm so used to seeing snow which is weird. But I like it. Yeah, It was a tough (winter) because it was just cold and I haven't felt it like this before. I'll get used to it though.”

Spicer is hoping parents Trevor and Rosetta and younger brother Terrell will visit this summer so they can watch him play.

They are rarely out of his mind.

Spicer comes from modest circumstances with money often in short supply growing up. His training ground was a large patch of grass, dubbed the “savannah,” near the family home.

“I have a goal and that goal is just to help my family as much as possible,” Spicer said. “I've got to sacrifice. But once I'm able to help my family out, I'll be fine. Because I know I'm doing something purposeful with my life.”


This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 18, 2024.