Montclair’s Kevin O’Toole battles for playing time as a rookie for MLS champs, NYCFC
Montclair's Kevin O'Toole was on pins and needles in January on where he would be picked in the Major League Soccer SuperDraft.
But he had good fortune, as the New York City Football Club (NYCFC) would make a trade with FC Dallas that would include switching draft positions in MLS, the United States’ top soccer league.
NYCFC would move down to the 34th overall pick, while Dallas would get the 28th pick as part of the trade.
And with the 34th pick NYCFC chose O'Toole, who had helped Princeton University to the 2021 Ivy League championship just months before the draft.
"I didn't know that NYCFC was interested until the day of the draft, when my college head coach called me," O'Toole, a Montclair High School graduate, said, referring to Princeton head coach Jim Barlow.
O'Toole, a two-time Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year at Princeton and a 2021 All-American, was excited about being chosen by NYCFC, so close to his family in Montclair.
"It's been amazing to be selected in the city where I spent a lot of time in," said O'Toole, who knows that it will be a challenge to get playing time for one of MLS' top clubs. "I knew that it obviously is a very competitive team."
For NYCFC Sporting Director David Lee, O'Toole fit the bill for his team, which was coming off winning the 2021 MLS Cup.
"Kevin’s technical quality, professionalism and work rate have enabled him to quickly integrate into the group, and he will also have an opportunity to earn minutes with NYCFC II during the MLS Next Pro season, which will also benefit his development," Lee said after O'Toole signed a contract in March for 2022 and options for 2023 and 2024.
After the signing, the Montclair native said that he was “excited for the opportunity.”
"From day one, I have come out and given my all on the pitch," said O'Toole, who started working with NYCFC days after being selected in the draft. "We have a great group of guys, so many great professionals that I can learn from, and I aim to continue to grow and improve every day."
After the draft, his development hit a pause when he had a bout of COVID, and he also suffered a concussion that kept him off the pitch for about four weeks. He said that it took an additional couple of weeks to get his game back to par.
When he was a junior at Princeton he opted to not go professional but to return to the Tigers for the 2021 season.
"He put that dream on hold for a year to come back to his team, and he led us remarkably during our run to an undefeated Ivy League season and a trip to the NCAA Tournament," Barlow said.
"He's been a first-class player, student and leader during his Tiger career, and it's awesome to see his efforts rewarded with a chance to play for NYCFC."
O'Toole made it count last fall as he contributed seven goals and nine assists for the Tigers in his senior year. The nine assists tied for third-best for a Princeton player all time in a season. He also ranked 17th in the nation in total assists and 20th in assists-per-game, 0.5.
He has mainly been playing for NYCFC II this season: If he does not play for the NYCFC team on game day, he will play the next game for NYCFC II, a feeder team that plays in the MLS Next Pro league.
He said of the game on the professional level: "The speed of the play and the intensity of the practices have been super-high."
He continues to battle for playing time and is looking forward to getting into a regular season game for NYCFC and also to playing a home game at Yankee Stadium.
He played in a U.S. Open Cup game at St. John's University where NYCFC won, 3-1, over Rochester New York FC in the fourth round on May 11. It was the first game where he got on the field for NYCFC. Many times, MLS teams will play several substitutes in U.S. Open Cup games.
NYCFC II head coach Matt Pilkington said O'Toole is soaking up as much as possible when he plays for his team and is getting ready to be called upon to run onto the pitch for NYCFC.
"Kevin as a player and person has brought a really great attitude, a desire to learn, to win and develop," Pilkington said.
"He enjoys playing and developing, he fits in very well when he comes to play with NYCFC II, he knows all the players. He adds a high level of professionalism, work ethic and desire, which are good quality traits."