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Rookie French defender Clement Simonin rising fast in Toronto FC ranks

04/01/2015 04:55 EDT | Updated 06/01/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Clement Simonin's parents were up until 3 a.m. in France on the weekend, scouring Twitter for updates on their son's debut outing with Toronto FC.

Reviews of the rookie defender — all positive — have been pouring in since the 2-1 road loss to Real Salt Lake.

"An outstanding first match for him as a professional at the MLS level," said Toronto coach Greg Vanney.

"For his first game I was really proud of him and how he played," added Nick Hagglund, who partnered Simonin in the heart of the Toronto defence.

"He's a good centre back," said fullback Ashtone Morgan. "Great left foot. Confident on the ball."

For the 23-year-old Simonin, it was an afternoon to remember.

"I think it went pretty well, beside the score obviously," he said. "Personally I had a blast, it was an amazing experience being out there. I hope it's the first of many."

With starting centre backs Steven Caldwell and Damien Perquis both unavailable due to injury, Simonin needed to step up. Backup Eriq Zavaleta was also injured.

The defensive crisis prompted Toronto to promote him from Toronto FC 2 of the USL, signing him to an MLS deal.

For Vanney, there's a lot to like.

He sees Simonin as a player supremely comfortable on the ball, able to free up Toronto midfielders by coming forward. He can also open up defences with his left foot, spraying the ball across the field.

Repetition and experience are what the Frenchman needs, according to his coach.

"It will be about consistency in that position as he continues to develop," Vanney added.

Simonin turned heads from the get-go in camp with Toronto.

In a pre-season game against Florida Gulf Coast University in Bradenton, Fla., he picked out a winger on the other side of the field with a 50-yard rainbow pass. He also dribbled past four defenders and got a good bounce to beat a fifth on a solo foray up the middle of the pitch.

For Simonin, it's the latest step on a soccer journey that has taken him across the Atlantic.

Picked ninth overall in the January MLS SuperDraft, the six-foot-one 179-pound Simonin took almost all by surprise.

The defender transferred to North Carolina State from Lander University for his final two seasons. But he largely flew under the radar after his senior year was reduced to seven games because of hernia surgery.

Toronto had seen him at a combine and rated him high enough to make him the second defender taken in the draft, knowing that Seattle, which had Simonin on its under-23 team, also had its eye on him.

Simonin came up through the FC Lorient system in northwest France, making the reserve team before hitting a brick wall. He spent time with a different lower-level team before deciding to get an education while pursuing his soccer dream in the U.S.

The only team that offered him a scholarship was Division 2 Lander University in Greenwood, S.C.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

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