TORONTO - Jason Bent still wears the gold chain he bought just prior to signing his first pro contract.
Now 38, Bent is mentoring young players who are taking the first steps on their pro career. He is head coach of Toronto FC II, the MLS franchise's new developmental side.
His players may want to wait on splurging on their jewelry. The average USL Pro League salary runs between $12,000 and $24,000.
"Yes it's a modest salary. And it's one that's like an apprentice-type contract. You have to earn your stripes and work your way up," said Bent. "We tell the players that it's not the first or second contract where you're going to make your money, it's the third and the fourth."
The USL Pro team announced its first eight signings Thursday with the emphasis on youth. Draft picks Clement Simonin, Skylar Thomas, Wesley Charpie, Edwin Rivas and Sal Bernal join Toronto FC Academy players Molham Babouli, Luca Uccello and Mark-Anthony Kaye on TFC II.
Their ages range from 17 (Uccello) to 23 (Rivas and Simonin).
For the 20-year-old Kaye, who has been in the TFC system for two years already, it's another step down his soccer pathway.
"This is just another reminder that I'm closer and that I'm part of the (TFC) family," he said.
The eight signings will be augmented by a rolling selection of players from both the Toronto FC academy and MLS roster. The first-team members loaned to the USL club will likely be those from the bottom of the squad who need playing time.
The academy products played in Ontario's League 1 last season, with Babouli leading the circuit in scoring.
The TFC academy will continue to play there. But the third-tier USL, which ranks behind Major League Soccer and North American Soccer League, will offer Toronto a place to test its young talent between the academy and MLS ranks.
Toronto FC II kicks off its season March 21 on the road against the Charleston Battery.
Like its MLS big brother, Toronto FC II will start with a lengthy run on the road while its stadium is being completed at the Ontario Soccer Centre in suburban Vaughan.
The club will play its home opener at BMO Field on May 23 against the Rochester Rhinos before moving to Vaughan in July.
GM Tim Bezbatchenko cited Bent's character and expertise when asked about the coach's pluses. Bent, who played both in MLS and Europe, has coached the academy and served as an assistant with the MLS side.
"He has a thirst for learning about the game," said Bezbatchenko.
Bent is charged with developing players in the Toronto FC way, ensuring they play the same way as the first team to ease transition.
"Everyone knows what they're doing, knows what their roles are," said Kaye. "There's no confusion."
Bent can teach on and off the field. As a young pro, he experienced racism playing in Germany. And at the end of his career, he went to court to fight an insurance company over the injury that cut short his time on the field.
The TFC II players will train full-time. Their travel will be more planes, trains and automobiles than the first team, but it won't be bargain-basement. For the opener in Charleston, they will fly to Myrtle Beach and then bus the remaining 90 minutes of the journey.
"It's good for the young players to learn that, because that's the other side of their trade," said Bent.
Vancouver and Montreal have also launched USL teams this season.
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