Teens try their best

David Almeida (left) and Mark Van Beek race for the ball during open tryouts for Toronto FC on...

David Almeida (left) and Mark Van Beek race for the ball during open tryouts for Toronto FC on Monday. (Michael Peake/Toronto Sun)

DEAN McNULTY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 3:23 PM ET

VAUGHAN -- The two teenagers trotted out on to the artificial turf at the Ontario Soccer Centre yesterday having never met one another. But it turned out Piyush Kumar, 16, and Mohssin Gaafer, 17, had a lot more in common than a love for the world game.

Kumar and Gaafer were taking part in the first day of open tryouts for the new Major League Soccer side, Toronto FC.

They were just two of the 394 hopefuls with the dream of impressing the coaches of the MLS team.

But what set Kumar and Gaafer apart from many of the others this day was the trip that got them there.

Kumar began playing soccer in his native India, where he said his first and lasting memories of his homeland are still of kicking the ball around on a field near his home.

The promise of a better life and more opportunities for their son led the family to leave for Canada before Piyush was even old enough to attend school.

Now settled in Waterloo with his family, Kumar has as his goal becoming a professional soccer player and he saw the Toronto FC tryouts as a means to gauge his skills against the best in his age group.

"I got to see all the players from around Ontario and how good they are," he said after a 30-minute six-on-six game.

"I want to improve as a player. I was watching a game on TV between Canada and Hungary when I heard about the Toronto FC tryouts. I convinced my dad to let me have a day off school to take part."

Kumar is playing on an under-18 rep team in Waterloo and he came to the tryouts, he admits, thinking he was a pretty hot prospect.

"I have played soccer all of my life," he said. "But I was surprised (yesterday) that there were a lot of guys better than me."

Gaafer is also a new Canadian, but his journey was much more arduous.

He was just seven years old when civil war in his native Sudan drove his family to Egypt.

"I played soccer in Sudan with my friends," he said yesterday. "But it wasn't until we got to Egypt that I began playing on an organized team."

The family was able to obtain permission to move to Canada three years ago and found a home in Hamilton.

"Right away I wanted to play soccer here," Gaafer said. "And I was really surprised at how good the players were."

Gaafer, like Kumar, also has dreams of being able to one day earn money playing the game he loves.

"I close my eyes and think it would the greatest day in my life if I were picked to go to the next level of tryouts," he said.

Gaafer said that he hoped he was able to impress the coaches with his dribbling, which he considers the best part of his game.

"But I like to score, too," he said.

Judging from the group yesterday, so did 392 others.


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