TORONTO â€” Ben Spencer has signed with Toronto FC, moving up from Toronto FC 2 to give the senior side a different kind of striker off the bench.
At six foot five, the 22-year-old Spencer is a target man with good feet.
"It's a great feeling," Spencer said of signing a first-team deal, "It's what I've been working towards since I've came to the club in 2015.
Able to hold the ball up and bring others into play, Spencer is cut from a different cloth from a speedster like Tosaint Ricketts when coach Greg Vanney needs to bring someone on for Jozy Altidore or Sebastian Giovinco.
The signing caps a remarkable comeback from a rare knee injury that threatened to derail a promising career that saw Spencer star with the U.S. under-20 team.
Spencer left home at age 15 to pursue soccer, working his way through the U.S. youth ranks and earning a contract with Molde FK in Norway as an 18-year-old under then-manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a Norwegian and Manchester United legend.
His injury nightmare started in 2014 when he tore his meniscus playing on loan in the NASL. He subsequently underwent another round of arthroscopic surgery.
After parting ways with Molde, Spencer found a home in Toronto where his problem right knee started swelling up again. Chicago orthopedic surgeon Brian Cole eventually diagnosed a rare condition where the meniscus is so worn that a hole develops, with the swelling coming from cartilage damage.
Spencer needed cartilage replacement â€” and to have his femur re-aligned to alter the weight-bearing in his knee.
He underwent surgery in September 2015. It was nine months before Spencer could run or jump and another three months before he could finally take the field for Toronto FC 2's last two games of the 2016 USL season.
"I always knew I'd get over it," he said of the injuries. "It was just a matter of some hard work and some long days."
Vanney was scouting for U.S. Soccer's youth teams when he first spotted Spencer and recommended the Albuquerque native to the under-15 program. A year later, Vanney was involved with Real Salt Lake's fledgling residency program and invited Spencer to join.
Vanney moved to Chivas USA in California and Spencer eventually followed, living for six months with the Vanney family.
Spencer arrived in Toronto with shoulder-length hair but now sports a buzzcut, cutting it off for charity.
His status as a homegrown player carries over to Toronto from Real Salt Lake.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press