Hagglund proving valuable for Toronto FC

The rookie defender has stepped in and played a number of different roles for TFC, drawing praise from coach Ryan Nelsen in the process.

TORONTO — Through the first third of his first season in Major League Soccer, Nick Hagglund has made quite an impact with Toronto FC.

Having started eight matches in all competitions so far (five in MLS), the rookie defender has shown to be a versatile cog in head coach Ryan Nelsen's toolbox, one who can play several different positions across the back line without a noticable drop in quality.

Hagglund had arguably his best game in his young TFC career on Saturday in a 1-0 win over San Jose, when the Cincinnati, Ohio, native started at right back and put in a man of the match performance for the Reds.

In addition to drawing the penalty that led to Jermain Defoe's game-winning penalty kick, Hagglund frequently bombed forward from the back and took more shots than any other player on the field, including one sequence where he nearly scored twice on a couple of audacious volley attempts that required the full attention of San Jose 'keeper Jon Busch.

Nelsen attributes that kind of positive play to Hagglund's personality.

"[He's] not afraid of any occasion, he kind of puffs his chest out and just goes for it," Nelsen said of his prized rookie. "Whether you put him at striker or you put him in goal, he's just that type of personality. Those types of personalities go a long way, and not just in soccer but in life."

So confident in Hagglund is the TFC coach that Nelsen said only New England Revolution forward Patrick Mullins stands in the way between the 21-year-old Toronto defender and the MLS Rookie of the Year award.

"I can remember about five weeks ago some young kid put one in the top corner from about 30 [yards] out, it sure annoyed the hell out of me to tell you the truth," Nelsen said of Mullins, who opened his MLS account with a scorcher versus TFC on May 3. "He's the only one I can think of [ahead of Hagglund] at the moment."

Whether Hagglund is in the conversation for the top rookie prize at the end of the year remains to be seen, but the youngster is taking the plaudits in stride, preferring to focus on the team's goals rather than his own.

"The Rookie of the Year award is something that's an accumulation of the entire season, and my mind frame is just to take it one day at a time and enjoy playing soccer, enjoy being around the team," Hagglund said. "If that's the case at the end of the year of all the games I've played then that is it, but it's about getting into the playoffs this year, and that's the most important thing."