Nick Hagglund discusses life leading up to first MLS game for Toronto FC

Change best summarizes the past few months for Nick Hagglund.

The 21-year-old West Chester native was selected with the 10th overall pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft on Jan. 16 by Toronto FC.

Since then, the athletic defender who played his college ball at Xavier University has done a lot of "growing up" – adjusting to a new playing style, a new training regiment and a new way of life in a new country.

The kid who spent the last four years adjusting to life as a centerback has even had to adjust to a new position, at least in the short term.

With fullbacks Justin Morrow (hip), Bradley Orr (calf) and Mark Bloom (quadricep) all injured at various times during the pre-season, Hagglund played right back. He received rave reviews, according to an article by CTV News.

"I'm more than happy," head coach Ryan Nelsen, a former international defender, told reporters after a recent practice. "He played out of position, wasn't scared of the occasion at all. Loved it, actually. You could tell he's a guy that you put in front of 100,000 and he'll love it even more. So yeah, I couldn't be happier with Nick. A great acquisition."

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Hagglund will likely sit on the bench during most of his team's season opener in Seattle on Saturday. But that doesn't mean he isn't ready for his chance to take the field and show people why Toronto traded up to pick him.

WCPO talked to the Cincinnati kid to discuss life leading up to his professional match against the Sounders.

1. When did you join your club after the draft? What was the first team event?

After the draft, I flew to Toronto on (January 22). The first day, I attempted to explore Toronto despite the negative degrees. I got, maybe, two blocks before darting in to the nearest place to eat. The first team event was Entrance Medicals! All new players to the club were picked up by a shuttle, and were driven to the training facility on the 23rd. We arrived at the Kia Training Grounds before all players and staff. Slowly, but surely, everyone began shuffling in. We introduced ourselves, and proceeded with physical examinations. Afterwards, we met together as a team and the coaches laid down the foundation of Toronto FC and the vision for this year.

2. How's the transition to living in Toronto? Biggest surprise/change?

The biggest transition is not living in Cincinnati, obviously. I have lived in the Greater Cincinnati area, most of my 21 years of life. I have always been near family, friends, and a familiar environment. I have lived off of Montgomery Inn ribs, Skyline, and adventuring in Newport and Fountain Square.

Everything is new in Toronto: the accents, the restaurants, the entertainment. You could expect all that moving to any city, but the biggest change is I live In another country! Canada uses toonies and loonies for currency. They have a constitutional monarchy. Tax laws are different. From a boy that loves his Red, White, and Blue, it often surprises me to see the Red Maple Leaf flag flying around everywhere. I have a lot to learn, but I'm excited to experience the Toronto culture.

3. You're going from playing soccer when classes were done to playing soccer for a living. Can you talk a little bit about that? How's it different?

Playing soccer in college versus playing soccer as a living? Substitute class for free time! There is a lot of down time as a professional soccer player. Truly, as a soccer player, I work for about two hours a day. Practice is from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. That does not include treatment, icebaths, or gym time or extra work. Those are all optional and are decided by the player if they want to do them. But it is mandatory for us to be at practice for those two hours. That being said, those two hours are incredibly important. My job is based off of those two hours.

In college, I could have bad days or I could make excuses why I did not have the best day on the pitch. Professionally, there are no excuses. I have 22 hours of the day to prepare to bring the highest standard to practice. I never actually leave work at the pitch; it comes with me everywhere. How I eat, how much sleep I get, and how I spend your time during the day should be in preparation for the next practice.

The pressure to perform well is on every time I step on the field. That pressure not only comes from the coaches and myself, but also from your teammates. The guys on the field are trying to provide for themselves and their families. The intensity is an all-time high because people know the better they do, the more money they make. I'm playing with a different team with different staff in a different city, but it is the same game that I love!

4.

Your first game is March 15. How excited are you to step out on the pitch as a prove for the first time? 

I'm so pumped for the game against Seattle! That atmosphere and passion for the game in that city is awesome! It is a great test for us to see how we match up against a playoff team from last year. We are ready for game wit points on the line.

5. Who are you competing against? Do you have any idea where you currently sit on the depth chart? Plans for the upcoming season? Things you're working on?

Currently there are five centerbacks. Doneil Henry and Caldwell have the starting spots as the most veteran of centerbacks on TFC. The other three of us are battling for the third spot. The goal for me is to absorb as much as I can from our Captain, Steven Caldwell, and head coach, former centerback, Ryan Nelsen. The most important thing this year is for the team to win, so however I can do that, I will.

6. How does the TFC formation compare to that run at XU?

This TFC (Toronto FC) transformation, minus the large amounts of money spent and talent brought in,* does remind me of my freshman year at Xavier. There is a winning culture that Andy Fleming instilled in us that year, and I feel that same culture running through the veins of our coaches and the players. This is going to be an exciting year for TFC.

*Toronto FC signed big-money players U.S. men's national team member Michael Bradley and English standout Jermain Defoe in the off-season. The team finished in ninth place in the 10-team MLS Eastern Conference in 2013.

7. What are you going to miss most about Xavier?

From Xavier, I'm going to miss my soccer family. There was such a brotherhood between the players and coaches at Xavier. From the Seniors when I was a freshman to the freshmen who I was a senior, there was a tight bond between all of them. I'm going to miss fighting alongside them on the pitch.

8. How did your game change from the time you enrolled at XU to the time you were finished?

As a freshman, I did not really know who I was as a soccer player. I was certainly athletic and could do some good stuff with the ball, but I thought I could do more than I actually could do. Xavier helped met to harness my athletic ability into a functional soccer player. They moved from being a forward, to the midfield, and eventually found my permanent position as a centerback at the end of my freshman year. I was ability to use my ability to chase people down and win headers without getting out of shape, but also play simply and smart. My soccer IQ grew tremendously throughout my four years at Xavier.

9. Have you been in contact with any of the former Xavier players who've played in the MLS? What have they told you?

I talked to Luke Spencer and coach Jed Zayner about being in the MLS. They both gave me the advice to take care of my body, since the body is the tool of trade. They also told me to never be complacent. There is always something to be working on. Last tip was to enjoy it! There will be ups and downs. Enjoy the journey of professional soccer.

10. What would you like you legacy at Xavier to be? What are your thoughts on the future of the program?​

With Andy Fleming and Kris Bertsch at the head of the Xavier soccer program, Xavier will continue to reach great heights. In the four years they have been here, it has quickly grown from one of the worst soccer programs in the nation to a nationally noticed soccer program. They have been in the NCAA tournament three out of the last four years. In the past two years, three players have been picked up by MLS teams. It is a stepping stone to professional soccer.

As for my legacy, it is not mine at all. I was one of several people to make this program what it is today. I hope people remember me not for what I did on the field, but remember me for who I was off the field.

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