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Wileman: Earnshaw could be a key figure in TFC's new look

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Luke Wileman
3/11/2013 10:27:37 AM
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Toronto FC supporters got their first chance to see Robert Earnshaw's trademark somersault goal celebration not once but twice in Saturday's home opener against Sporting Kansas City and it's likely it will become a regular occurrence as the season progresses.

Throughout his career, the Welsh international has proven he is clinical in front of goal and he showed his striker's instinct is still very much alive, scoring both goals in the 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City at Rogers Centre.

It was a result Toronto fans have been waiting for, for a long time. Eight months, in fact. The victory snapped a 15 match winless run in the league stretching back to mid-July last year. There were plenty of positives for Ryan Nelsen's team to take from the match as they were able to beat an Eastern Conference powerhouse, but one of the biggest plusses was the contribution of Earnshaw.

On Saturday, the 31-year-old hustled hard to get in a position to score the first goal, anticipating the danger Sporting Kansas City's defence was bringing on itself. He then calmly dispatched a penalty to double the team's lead after just 21 minutes. Earnshaw proved that given the service he can be a real force in this league. He certainly has the quality in front of goal, but he also has the personality that can make him a big fan favourite in Toronto.

Ahead of Saturday's match, I had the chance to sit down with Earnshaw and talk to him about his career, and particularly his time playing in Israel for Maccabi Tel Aviv last year. It was an enthralling conversation as the Welsh international described some of the things he encountered during his six months playing in the Middle East.

"It was a very, very tough time over those few weeks to see these things that you only normally see in a film," he told me.

In a frightening 24 hours last November, Earnshaw suddenly found himself racing for cover from missiles as the conflict between Israel and Hamas reignited. He was forced to take shelter with his teammates after rockets exploded next to their training pitch in Tel Aviv, a far cry from his days playing in the English Premier League.

"We were in the middle of training passing the ball around and all of a sudden a siren went off," he explained. "We were wondering what was going on. Israeli players started going to the side of the field and telling us that we needed to take cover. We went inside of the building and just heard a big bang. There were rockets flying above the pitch and explosions above us."

Many of Earnshaw's Israeli teammates had previously spent time in the Army and guided him through the situation but his worries were more for his family than himself, as his sister and two-year-old son had just arrived in Tel Aviv for a visit.

"That was the worst thing because I had the Israeli guys telling me what to do, but my family was back in the apartment and I was worried about them, whether they would know what to do. Even though all that happened, it was a great experience for me. I'm thankful that I went through that and I was ok and my family was ok and now I can be here playing for Toronto."

It's been quite a journey for Earnshaw, who was born in Zambia and spent some of his childhood in Malawi before moving to Wales at the age of nine. His latest stop brings him to Major League Soccer initially on a short term deal, but he hopes to make Toronto home after his current contract ends in the summer. If Saturday's match was anything to go by, he could be a key figure in Toronto's new look team and a driving force in finally bringing the long-suffering Reds fans something to cheer about.

Toronto FC at Montreal Impact is live on MLS on TSN on Saturday, March 16. Kickoff at Olympic Stadium is 4pm ET-1pm PT on TSN.

Robert Earnshaw (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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