Hamilton had never known playing soccer for a team outside of Toronto. A native of Scarborough, Ontario, Hamilton was a youth player in the city before joining the TFC Academy at 15 years old. Two years later, he signed for the first team and was officially a Major League Soccer player.
The forward spent the first five and a half seasons of his professional career with the Reds, making 53 first-team appearances and scoring 11 goals. In 14 games in 2019, Hamilton had a career-high four goals to his name. So when first-year Crew president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko, who spent the last six years in a similar role in Toronto, had the chance to go get Hamilton, he jumped on it.
While the trade was surprising for Hamilton, he doesn’t view the move to the Crew negatively. Instead, the 23 year old is excited about a fresh start.
“It’s all for the best,” he said after arriving in Columbus late last week. “It’s God’s plan. It’s very refreshing for sure to have a fresh start somewhere. Being in a club since you’re 17 years old, sometimes it’s hard to change the perspective that they have of you. I was training with the first team since I was 15 and going to preseason and stuff like that, so to have a fresh start in a club like Columbus where there’s so much history, the coach is a successful coach and believes in young players (is nice).”
With the Black & Gold, Hamilton is not walking into a starting position. The Crew has an established striker in United States Men’s National Team player Gyasi Zardes. The club also recently traded for another forward in Romario Williams, who is also a young player looking for a new opportunity, and still has rookie JJ Williams on the roster.
Quality depth at the striker position, something the team hasn’t had all year, is good for the Crew, but it’s not always good for the player.
“I always want good players,” head coach Caleb Porter said. “I want as much depth as possible, as much quality as possible. I think in the striker position, you want different dimensions, so I think we get that. You want youth, you want energy, you want athleticism.”
The young forward is not unfamiliar with playing second fiddle to an established star. In his five-plus years in Toronto, Hamilton started just 28 games playing behind another U.S. international in Jozy Altidore. He demonstrated the ability to come off the bench and be a spark for TFC, something Romario Williams has already done for the Crew.
Hamilton understands his role with the Black & Gold won’t be too much different than the one in Toronto, but he does provide Columbus with a little bit of a different type of player up top.
“For starters, I’m left-footed,” Hamilton said of his differences from Zardes and Williams. “I’d say I’m a pretty in-behind type of striker. I can hold up the ball as well, which I know Gyasi’s decent at. Gyasi’s a box-type finisher. I’d like to think I have a pretty decent left foot in creating my own shots and stuff like that.”
Due to visa issues, Hamilton just arrived in Columbus last week. This meant he spent the last couple of weeks since the trade was announced working out on his own. The forward was happy to get back on the soccer field and begin working with his new teammates, a transition he called “seamless.”
“I feel like I’ve been a part of the team for a couple of months already,” he said.
The next step for Hamilton will be getting on the field. And the pressure will be high after Williams scored just 11 minutes into his debut.
But Hamilton isn’t worried about pressure. He’s happy to have a new chance, in a new city with a club that went out and acquired him. As for the goals, he knows those will come.
“I’m so happy to be here and so grateful for the opportunity,” Hamilton said. “As a player, my main thing is I score goals. That’s what I’ve done my whole life and that’s what I’d love to bring to Columbus.”