The Toronto FC tenure for Andy Welsh was a very short one, but what came out of his stay reveals a lot about what the midfielder was like as a player, as well as the culture at TFC during the early days.
There’s no easy way to claim a spot with any Premier League squad, whether a side is at the top or bottom of the table. The EPL is a league where players come and go with the snap of a finger, because there’s always going to be somebody waiting in the wings.
It leaves a lot of hopeful English players consistently trying to reach the top of the pyramid. Yet, a wealth of those same players spend a good portion of their careers in the lower ranks of England’s league system.
Andy Welsh was no different than any other English native hoping to breakthrough to the top. A four-year stay at Stockport County in League One saw him collect 75 appearances and head out on loan for a short stint with Macclesfield United.
Welsh was extremely lucky to have enough credentials combined with a short trial at Sunderland, to spend his next couple of seasons in the EPL. This, of course, brought some spark to the Manchester-born player’s career with clubs such as Leicester City picking him up on loan in the Championship.
To say that Welsh did enough traveling in the early stages of his career is an underestimate. Never could he predict that an unhappy feeling at Sunderland, resulting from constant loan periods away and disagreements with then manager Roy Keane, would eventually bring the forward to North America.
At the time, Welsh was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Another loan spell was assured away from Sunderland, leaving Welsh with the choice to go and flirt with other clubs. An expansion squad in Toronto, looking for experience, negotiated with Sunderland and Welsh to end his contract in England and sign for the Reds.
It had to be a new and exciting adventure for Welsh, playing in a new country for the first time in his young career. A change in scenery, however, was not enough to change his luck within the game of football.
Welsh found himself as a substitute more often than not in Mo Johnston’s side. A big performance against the 2006 MLS Cup winners in the Houston Dynamo, where Welsh scored a goal, was still not enough to get regular reps for Toronto FC.
A couple of fixtures was all it took for the now 35-year-old to be sent away to Blackpool. It seems like a rather boring story on the surface, but Welsh went on to reveal a ton about the culture within the expansion TFC side in a huge interview with Soccer Night Exclusive.
A big portion of the chat revolves around the forward’s relations with “Trader Mo”. An intriguing theme that came out of Welsh’s words was that the Scottish manager seemed to not care enough about the players under him:
"“He promised me things which he didn’t ever deliver, which at the time upset me and my family because we had traveled a long way and had left a lot behind in England. He told me I would be playing either left or right in attacking positions. However, I think it was the second game away to the MLS runners up the previous season and I was told to play in a wing back roll, where I was basically playing defence.“As previously stated I found it difficult. We had many senior players in Carl Robinson, Jimmy Brennan and Danny Dichio who were also baffled sometimes at the things he would do or not do. It was very unsettling at times so I had to look up to those older pro’s and ask for guidance off them, as I was still young at the time as well. Mo never really talked to the players and spoke about a style of play he wanted to use, which I think didn’t help us throughout the season, because if you have a set way and style of playing, then everyone knows their jobs.”"
It’s a difficult choice to determine. Johnston was known for his hands-off approach to managing Toronto through the early years. He simply let the players do just that; play the game.
However, Welsh’s interview reveals a lot about the effect it had on some players in the club. Little-to-no tactics and guidance was not common, especially for players such as Welsh who experienced play under completely different managers in England.
Mo brought some entertainment and revealed what football can do in Toronto, but this seemed to come at the expense of the players.
It remains a testimony that only Welsh himself has really given. The interview really is a must-read, as the player talks a lot about his short time at Toronto. When saying short time, it should be noted that Welsh never even got to move into his Toronto house, before he was sent to Blackpool.
After a big scene in Toronto, it was back to more of the same from Welsh. An array of clubs in England from all over the pyramid seemed to chase his signature. Prime years came at Yeovil Town, where he showcased in the midfield and scored six goals during his three years there.
These days, Welsh has taken on the manager role himself, at Ossett Albion.
Why Welsh was Important to Toronto FC
It’s obvious to see that the Reds were going for nothing but experience to build their original squad. Yet, many of those experienced players came and went after a couple of seasons.
TFC pin-pointed veterans who were also journeymen, such as Welsh. Players that were comfortable with moving consistently and weren’t too much to offload in the near future.
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Welsh was a part of the many players that helped supporters realize what built the Reds early on.
Welsh’s importance also comes as a historical review of the club’s early chemistry; something fans don’t hear much about at all to this day.
A lot happens behind closed doors that most aren’t accustomed to seeing on their television sets. There’s a huge difference between the games played both on and off the pitch. Welsh helps bring this to the surface, which should make many wonder more about the friendships between a bunch of people within the football industry being brought together in a short period of time.
Welsh’s goal against the Dynamo also helped spark the “Toronto against the world” mentality. If TFC can score against the champions, then they can compete with anybody. The same mindset is held by supporters today, which traces all the way back to what Welsh and the expansion Toronto FC squad helped create.
Essentially, Welsh was a journeyman footballer who made a quick stop in Toronto to help shine some light on the overall future of the club.
Do you remember anything from Welsh’s tenure in Southern Ontario? What do you think he brought to Toronto FC then and for the future? Let us know in the comments section below.