TJ Tahid: Vancouver FC's 16-year-old rising star with 'the heart of a lion'
When Vancouver FC's Taryck "TJ" Tahid received the ball from Gabriel Bitar in the box in the 45th minute of last week’s derby matchup at home against Pacific FC, he immediately sprung into action.
Sensing a chance to draw his team level right before half time, as they trailed their Island rivals 2-1 in the 45th minute at Langley’s Willoughby Community Park, Tahid pounced. There, he quickly sorted out his feet with a great touch to create separation from his defender, before delicately curling the ball into the low corner.
A swift and decisive action, it was a sequence that looked like it was executed by someone who had been playing professionally for years, as he did well to fool someone who’s seen and shut down his fair share of tricky attackers over the years in the experienced Amer Đidić.
Yet, as the camera panned to Tahid in celebration, you then saw the smile and sheer jubilation of a teenager, one who’d just made history, as at 16 years, one month and twelve days old, he’d just become the youngest-ever goalscorer in CPL history.
GOAL 🦅🦅— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) June 3, 2023
T.J. Tahid, take a bow! 😎
The 16-year-old scores a late equalizer for @VanFootballClub vs. @PacificFCCPL and the B.C. BASH (h/t @jwilsonxviii) is all level at HT #CanPL | 🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/SbCcMwBHVy
Already the league’s youngest signee and debutant, it was just the latest milestone that he’s been able to grab this season, as he’s wasted no time in taking to the CPL.
At an age where most might be focused on getting their driver’s license or passing provincial exams, he’s already plying his trade against professionals and hasn’t looked out of place while doing so.
"TJ's a great player," Bitar said of his young teammate after the game. "And I feel like we're all starting to show our quality in the attacking third, we're starting to click."
Yet, for those who’ve gotten to work with him, they’re not that surprised by how quickly he’s taken to the CPL.
A talented player, one who has already had training stints with youth teams at European clubs like Midtjylland and Villarreal, as well as in North America with the New York Red Bulls, there’s no doubting his abilities on the pitch.
A tricky winger, one who is able to take defenders on 1v1, he combines that with his strong speed and ability to take shots and whip crosses in, while also being able to participate in build-up play with his passing.
But while those skills have been crucial to his strong performances, they’re arguably not what has really made him stand out – his mentality.
Despite his age, he’s incredibly fearless and works very hard on both sides of the ball, is unafraid to get stuck in, and just has this desire to make things happen. Often, young players develop that over time, as they can start out shy when they share the field with professionals, but Tahid does not have such a problem, as he’s played at full tilt since his debut.
That’s huge, as that can often be what holds youngsters back as they try to take that next step. Just take the word of his own head coach, Afshin Ghotbi, who at stops in the US, South Korea, Iran and more, has seen his fair share of special young players over the years.
"I think he has a certain temperament," Ghotbi said of Tahid. "And I've already said this many times about him, but what makes him special isn’t just the technical tools or his physical abilities, but his mentality.
"He's a winner, and he's got the heart of a lion.
"He’s the kind of a player that for me has all of the qualities to reach the highest level of the sport, so this is just the beginning for him. And I think he'll just grow into his role and his position for us."
That mentality is clear when seeing Tahid play, or even when talking to him.
Shortly after scoring that goal, which eventually ended up being one of the lone consolations for Vancouver in a tough 6-3 loss to their rivals, Tahid had no problems in deflecting the attention away from himself.
Given how special of a moment it was, and how well he took that goal, one would’ve not blamed him one bit for cracking a wry smile or wanting to talk things up when asked about what it meant to score that tally and what he felt when the shot went in.
Instead, he carefully paused, and with a tear in his eye, he reflected emotionally on those who helped make such a special moment possible.
"Obviously, being the youngest player, it's been an amazing, amazing experience," Tahid told OneSoccer. "And to share that with my family, who were in the stands, it just makes it that much better. Being with this team, and just how supportive they’ve been, to all of the coaches, such as (head) Coach Afshin, and (assistant) Coach Niall (Thomspon), just seeing how much they’ve pushed me, how much they've helped me grow as a player already, it’s been amazing."
In particular, the family part was the biggest part of all of this for him. A local BC native, born and raised in nearby Maple Ridge, his parents have been an immense part of his journey to where he is now.
Because of that, they can often be spotted in the front row of Vancouver FC games alongside other family members, all proudly sporting Tahid no. 26 kits.
Having sacrificed a lot of time, effort and money in this journey, helping Tahid chase his dream, this whole experience has been surreal for them to see develop right before their eyes.
So when Tahid’s goal went in, his first thoughts despite the noise of the crowd and the jubilation of his teammates were actually his parents, as he immediately thought of all the sacrifice they’d put in to help him get to this point.
"It's been beautiful," Tahid said. "Like they've been with me my whole life, have watched almost all my games, my dad was my coach, and now they get to see me playing as a professional here, so I think as a family, it's just been a big dream for all of us."
Yet, that’s the most special part about Tahid’s journey - that it’s all happening in his own backyard, in front of the careful eyes of his parents.
Previously, that could’ve potentially happened with the nearby Whitecaps, to be fair, but beyond that, options were otherwise limited for a kid growing up in Greater Vancouver to dream of carving out a career in soccer at home.
Heck, even having the chance to cut one’s teeth in League 1 BC wasn’t even an option, hence why Tahid looked elsewhere with those trials abroad, and even had to train with local men's leagues teams in Vancouver just to find opportunities to push himself as a player.
Now, however, with Tahid now able to take these first steps professionally as a teenager while living close to home? It just shows what sort of opportunities that CPL clubs can provide to these young players.
All of a sudden, with the rise of League 1 BC and Vancouver FC’s arrival, the options for BC players to play close to home have increased significantly over just the last year and a half alone.
That’s huge because as some might’ve noted, BC is struggling to push players into the National Team environment right now, especially on the men’s side, where just one of 53 players in the CanMNT’s recent Nations League preliminary squad was born and trained in the province - Joel Waterman.
More opportunities, however, will only create more stories like that of Tahid, which will only help fix that BC problem long-term.
"It's awesome to see how football in Canada is growing," Tahid said. "Obviously, Pacific was here in BC first in the CPL, and there’s of course the Whitecaps, but now having Vancouver FC here too in the Lower Mainland makes it even better, it brings something different to the table, and that’s been good."
He’s got big goals to accomplish now, too.
Given what he’s already shown in 154 minutes of play with his goal and strong performances, he already looks to be a key part of this Vancouver side going forward.
From there, he’ll look to help them turn around a mixed start to the campaign, while keeping grounded as he continues to find his feet as a professional.
Along with the battle to try and carve out a spot on Canada’s U17 World Cup team later this year, that’s a lot for him to push for in the short term, while goals of moving up the soccer ladder and cracking the senior national team loom in the long term.
Yet, as expected, Tahid’s not looking too far ahead despite all of that. Channelling that heart of a lion that Ghotbi spoke of, he’s taking everything as it comes right now, and seeing where that takes him.
And if that first goal he scored last week is to be any indication, you can’t help but be excited about where that ends up being, as he quickly develops into a player to watch in the CPL this season.
"I've always been strong mentally," Tahid said. "So I just brought my previous experiences and then brought that to the professional level, and so far it’s been good.
"I'm not trying to rush anything right now, I'm just trying to see how my path goes, keep working hard here, and see where football takes me."
Photos via: Vancouver FC/Beau Chevalier