As he subbed in for Tsubasa Endoh in the 77th minute of yesterday's TFC match vs. Sporting Kansas City, Mo Babouli must have realized a circle was finally closing.
For a local player that did not even begin playing organized soccer until 13, Babouli's full debut ten years later for the city's professional side is nothing short of incredible.
Only two and a half years ago, Babouli had finished a spell playing at Georgia Perimeter College in Atlanta, and was about ready to accept the cold reality that his dream of playing professionally was probably unrealistic.
"I was looking at it clearly and just thought since I was 19 or 20 and hadn't made a team in a professional environment yet, it was probably not going to happen," he said. "I had also gone to South America for a bit also, and you see there how high the quality is but there was just no money in it. I was trying to be realistic, and just thought I'd play with my friends and look at alternatives in life."
However, returning to the Toronto area and playing for the Sheridan College indoor team, and then in the summer for his childhood club Dixie, Babouli managed to create a glimmer of hope.
Catching the eye of Toronto FC academy coach Anthony Capotosto during a match against the Junior Reds, Babouli was invited to trial with the academy and - ready to give it one final shot - he began the 2014 League1 Ontario season as an unknown entity in the TFC Senior Academy ranks. The anonymity wouldn't last long.
"Up until the open trial at Toronto FC, I really didn't think it was going to happen," he explained. "I saw people out there that drove me to take things more seriously and give it one last shot, and it paid off."
By the end of the 2014 season, Babouli had dominated the League1 golden boot race, led Toronto FC Academy to claim the inaugural League1 championship, and won the Inter-Provincial Cup competition over Quebec champions CS Longueuil.
Finishing the season as the league MVP and golden boot winner, news of Babouli's red-hot form was beginning to attract attention at the highest level. He confirmed the attraction after leading the Sheridan College outdoor team to a national title in the 2014 Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association final tournament.
"I was working at a job and playing League1, and then when school started in the fall I played with Sheridan, we had a big season collectively, and won nationals" he added.
"Benito Floro - the men's national team coach - had kept an eye on me in the summer with League1, and even came out to a couple of the games with Sheridan. He watched the national semi-final and final, and invited me to participate in an informal national team camp."
By spring 2015, Babouli was making his professional debut for Toronto FC II in the USL against Charleston Battery, and in typical form he scored a goal to mark the occasion.
In the summer Babouli would raise the bar again, gaining a selection to the Canada U23 Pan-Am Games team, before scoring a goal against favourites Brazil on his international debut.
"Sometimes it's even hard to look back and realize it actually happened," he revealed. "For me, it was a great moment and I felt comfortable with what I needed to do in front of net. I didn't have the time to soak up that moment. We were losing 3-0 and it was just a situation of get the ball out of the net and try and get another one. Sure, it was Brazil, but we felt there was a bigger picture and we wanted to get a result."
Babouli's work-rate and ability to find timely goals (he scored a second international goal vs. Cuba in Olympic qualifying) will always be prized assets, and after a stellar pre-season with the Toronto FC first team - he notched three goals and one assist in nine first-team matches - Babouli was signed on March 5 as the 12th player in club history to move from the academy to first team.
"Between League1 and USL it wasn't even a full year, and then it has been exactly a year from then that I played for Canada and signed with the first team," he said. "Everything just fell into place. It really seemed pretty quick to me. I had never been a part of the national pool or anything like that, and so it just seemed to develop so fast."
"With the first team at Toronto FC, it has just been such an education. The coaches I've had here, and the leadership from guys like Bradley, Altidore, and especially the other native Toronto players, has pushed me to work so hard. These guys have just played at such a high level and you need to find your place within the collective.
"I've learned to make higher average decisions on the field, play my role, and keep trying to make a difference in the final third. For me, I still play the same but at this level, every mistake you make are the moments the opponent is looking for to make you pay. It becomes a game of who makes the mistake first. I just need to keep working on being consistent and reliable on the pitch. "