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Back from England, Richie Laryea picks up where he left off with Toronto FC

Back home on loan from Nottingham Forest, Richie Laryea gives Toronto FC the kind of threat from fullback it used to have. Laryea battles with New England Revolution's Brandon Bye during the first half of MLS soccer action in Toronto, Saturday August 14, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

TORONTO — Richie Laryea wasted little time resuming his Toronto FC career.

After arriving late Thursday following a seven-hour flight from England, Laryea trained in Toronto on Friday before flying to Nashville. On Saturday, he played 64 minutes in his TFC return on loan from England's Nottingham Forest — his first start for the MLS club since last November's 1-0 loss to CF Montreal in the Canadian Championship final.

"A little bit of a hectic 72 hours, but I wouldn't trade it for anything," Laryea said after Toronto's wild 4-3 win over Nashville SC. "It was good."

More like it was if he had never left.

And while the fullback/wingback was one of almost two dozen Toronto first-team players to move on after last season's dismal 6-18-10 campaign, there are some familiar faces left — captain Michael Bradley, midfielder Jonathan Osorio and goalkeeper Alex Bono among them.

An array of new talent is also on hand, led by Italians Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi and Domenico Criscito.

"It's not difficult for him (Laryea) to come right in and show that he's got qualities that really make a difference and help us," said Toronto coach Bob Bradley, Michael's father.

Career game No. 84 — in all competitions — for Laryea in Toronto colours was as productive as ever. The 27-year-old from Toronto won a penalty, nearly earned another and set up Osorio's second goal.

"Amazing," said Osorio. "We love him here at the club. I think it's very obvious how much we value him. It shows by the lengths they went to get him back here. And Richie loves this club as well. I think Toronto gave him a chance at a time in his career when he really needed it. He's been flying ever since."

Toronto gave up a total of US$350,000 in general allocation money in deals with FC Dallas and FC Cincinnati so it could move up the allocation order to get Laryea back into the league.

With Criscito at left fullback and Laryea back on the right, Toronto has filled the void left by the retirement of Justin Morrow and departure of Laryea and Brazil's Auro.

For Laryea, it's a chance to get valuable playing minutes ahead of this November's World Cup after seeing limited action in England. And to reconnect and build ties with Canadian teammates Osorio, Mark-Anthony Kaye and Doneil Henry in advance of Qatar.

Laryea has already shown he can make the most of second chances.

Drafted seventh overall by Orlando City in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft from the University of Akron, Laryea spent three seasons on the fringes in South Florida before Orlando declined his contract option in November 2018.

It's never a good time to be unemployed. More so when a baby is on the way.

Toronto threw him a lifeline in the form of a pre-season trial, with then-coach Greg Vanney looking to convert Laryea from midfielder to fullback.

A repurposed Laryea showed he can be a thorn in opposition sides with his ability to cut into the penalty box, forcing defenders to engage at some risk as he looked to find a teammate or go for goal himself.

Laryea, not one to turn the other cheek or back down, also brings an edge to the game. Cross him at your peril.

Part of Canada's recent success internationally has been the brotherhood among its players and their willingness to do what it takes. Laryea embodies that.

And while playing time was rare in England, Laryea was a constant for Canada coach John Herdman. He was part of all six of Canada's World Cup qualifiers earlier this year, starting four of them to bring his caps total to 30.

Like his Canadian teammates, Laryea celebrated securing World Cup qualification with the 4-0 win March 27 over Jamaica at BMO Field, where fans warmly welcomed him back. While his wife and son were back in England, his parents, brothers and several friends were on hand.

Asked then about his situation at Nottingham Forest, Laryea said he was biding his time having arrived midseason in England. The team was on a roll, as was the player ahead of him, wingback Djed Spence.

Laryea, who made the move to Forest in January, was willing to do what it takes.

"I've been in much much worse situations. This isn't even a bad one, at all," he said in March. "It's obviously frustrating. Everyone wants to play. A professional wants to play, especially a guy like me … I'm just going day by day. I'll be fine."

Laryea said he did extra work at practice and after, to ensure he was ready for when called, be it Canada or Forest.

"I told myself I had to do a little bit more," he said.

It showed as he excelled for Canada in games against Costa Rica and Jamaica.

"It's been tough at Nottingham not playing, so then to come here and get a game right away and then be able to feel like I've helped the team, it was good for me mentally," he said after the Jamaica win.

Competition for places at Forest has intensified with promotion to the Premier League, even though Spence -- who was on loan to Forest from Middlesborough -- has since joined Tottenham on a transfer that reportedly could be worth as much as 20 million pounds ($31.1 million).

Forest has spent more than 70 million pounds ($108.8 million) strengthening its roster. It has deep pockets with British reports pegging promotion to be worth at least 170 million pounds ($264 million) in increased revenues for the club.

Laryea, who made five appearances in his six months in England, only has good things to say about Forest, which he calls "a massive club in a very good league."

"No negatives. A lot of positives. I think it's helped me a lot to grow as a player and a person, especially off the field. I think it was very good. Maybe you and other people might have different perspectives of it and how I felt and maybe people thought I was unhappy or miserable, but I think it was the opposite."

He said he would make the move again "a million times over."

Laryea's loan agreement "runs through the summer of 2023," meaning he is here for a while. Laryea clearly appreciates the opportunity.

"The love I have for this club is unconditional … I don't take it lightly playing for this club and representing this club. It's done a lot for me and my family," he said. "It's always good to put on this shirt."

In other TFC news, the league has detailed the "inappropriate behaviour" after Toronto's 0-0 draw at New England on July 30 that resulted in an undisclosed fine for Insigne. The Italian star "damaged club property ... in the tunnel area," according to a league spokeswoman.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 8, 2022.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press