It had been a frustrating game for Molham Babouli and his Toronto FC Academy teammates. Trailing 1-nil to a Durham United team that was well below them in the standings, and struggling with a bumpy playing surface, it was starting to look like an upset was in the works.
Then, suddenly, things changed. A minor bobble by the Durham back-line gave Babouli a chance. It wasn't a glaring chance - it would be charitable to call it even a half chance - but that half second opportunity would prove to be all that Babouli needed.
He pounced, beat the defender, perfectly shielded the ball from the charging Durham keeper and then, while moving away from goal, found a way to slot the ball into the far corner of the goal.
It was 1-1. TFCA's undefeated status would remain intact and Babouli would stretch his lead atop the Golden Boot standings. Two days later, he came on as a halftime substitute and helped engineer a come from behind 2-1 victory over Woodbridge Strikers that vaulted TFCA into first place in the L1 Standing after matchweek 6. Clearly he was feeling confident after being chosen Player of the Week after his strong play in week 5 - his second POTW title after first being chosen the standout of matchweek three, following a hat-trick over Master's FA Saints.
Babouli continues to sit on top of the Golden Boot standings with eight goals, and has become one of the breakout players in this inaugural League1 Ontario season. It wouldn't be a stretch to say he's an apt poster child for why League1, and other pro-am leagues of this type, are vital to the development pathway in Ontario and Canada.
Babouli is exactly the type of player that fell through the cracks in the past. Canadian u20 coach Robin Gale fully admits he "wasn't on their radar" prior to his performance to start the season. League1 Ontario Technical Director Rafael Carbajal, who also serves as an assistant to Canadian Men's National Team Head Coach Benito Floro, has indicated that Babouli is one of several players in the league that is being closely monitored as the caoching staff works to refine their u23 Olympic team player pool.
TFCA head coach Michael Stefano is a believer in Babouli's potential.
"He's got that killer instinct," Stefano says. "To be honest, it's not something that can be taught."
Stefano says Babouli is greatly benefiting from training with better players in the academy, and with the challenges of playing week in, week out in the academy. He suggests Canadian soccer will benefit greatly as well.
"I think that part of [the lack of scoring] is [not] recognizing talents like Mo and putting them in the correct environment. In the past, [Babouli] had to create opportunities for himself as well as scoring. Now, he's surrounded by good players and his ability to combine with them is greatly helping his game."
Stefano says he will continue to work on that aspect of Babouli's game, but that he sees tremendous potential for the young player and that his ability is growing daily.
For his part, Babouli comes off as modest. He downplays his accomplishments so far in the League1 season and suggests that he is just focused on "working hard."
That's not to say he doesn't have aspirations of advancing in his career. He aims to make the senior TFC team and to play at the highest level possible.
"Hopefully (that happens) as soon as possible," he says. "But, you never give up. You work every day, you work hard and you hope for the best."
"If it happens, it happens, but if it doesn't I still have a love for the game."