Mason Toye battled himself more than anyone else as a rookie with Minnesota United.
During those training sessions, “I would just tune out,” he said.
With no goals and one assist in 340 minutes for the Loons a year ago, Toye pointed fingers at teammates and coach Adrian Heath, telling himself, “This guy isn’t doing anything. Adrian isn’t giving me opportunities.”
“I didn’t really look myself in the mirror,” Toye told the Pioneer Press this week.
Toye stopped deflecting once last season ended. Instead of retreating to his childhood home in New Jersey, the 20-year-old moved from downtown Minneapolis to Maple Grove so he was closer to United’s training grounds in Blaine.
He surprised the coaching staff by working out daily at the National Sports Center and impressed Minnesota-based teammates Ethan Finlay, Brent Kallman and Eric Miller with his work ethic.
Toye — pronounced Toy — didn’t play much in the Loons’ first 16 MLS games this season, but this time he didn’t pass the buck. Instead, he tried to show Heath the consistency in practice he now admits he lacked last year.
After loan stints with USL affiliate Forward Madison earlier this year, Toye earned his 2019 debut as a sub in late May and he has been on fire ever since. Heading into Saturday’s 7 p.m. match with FC Dallas at Allianz Field, he has six goals and two assists in his past six games.
“It feels way better than any success that I’ve had because I’ve worked for it,” he said. “I feel like I deserve it.”
Toye scored his first goal for Minnesota in a U.S. Open Cup on June 18, the game-winner in a 3-2 victory at Houston that helped Minnesota advance to the national tournament’s semifinals in August.
He then netted two goals in a friendly against Madison on June 25, showing he should be done with the minor leagues.
His first MLS goal and assist came in the 7-1 blowout of FC Cincinnati on June 29. He added the second assist on Kevin Molino’s clinching goal in a 3-1 win over San Jose on July 3 and notched his first career two-goal game in the 3-2 comeback win in over Montreal last weekend.
The Loons used the seventh pick of the 2018 draft on Toye knowing he was raw after only one semester at Indiana University. But they loved his athleticism and good speed on a 6-foot-3 frame.
After his two-goal game against Montreal, MLSsoccer.com proclaimed Toye as the next scoring “sensation” in the league. Heath has been working to keep Toye modest with the newfound success, which includes well-timed, positioned runs on goal, a feathery first touch and calm, clinical finishes.
“This is stuff that we have been working with Mason now, as I say, for a year and a half. Now he is starting to put it into games,” Heath said. “If he can continually do that, he has bright future.”
Toye’s work includes pouring over video clips of Premier League forwards Jamie Vardy and Gonzalo Higuain, Atlanta United’s striker Josef Martinez and Cyle Larin, who played for Heath in Orlando City. Toye watches on repeat at home, on the airplane, and in hotels during road trips.
“I can just memorize them,” he said. “It ended up working out well because I can see it unfold on the field. It’s helped me out a lot.”
Toye will work through five-minute clips sent from Loons’ video analyst Sam Lawson and when he’s done with those he will search YouTube for more footage. He tried to incorporate Martinez’s moves on his two goals in the comeback win against Montreal last weekend.
Toye showed flashes of his skill during indoor training sessions in the spring. Loons center back Ike Opara was left impressed but didn’t want to pour praise on too thick.
“He was — I won’t gas him up that much — he was having an, um, OK day,” said Opara, the 2017 MLS defender of the year. “He was making me work.”
Opara told fellow Loons’ defender Michael Boxall that he felt Toye had all the tools and wondered what it would take for the second-year player to “flip the switch.”
“Fast forward a few months, he’s showing a little bit of a glimpse of what he did that training session,” Opara said. “I’m happy for Mason. He’s a humble kid and he’s been working.”
Toye’s current lot in life came down to a literal coin flip between playing soccer or basketball before his sophomore year at Morristown-Beard High School. He sat in a Qdoba Mexican restaurant and set the terms: heads he’d focus on soccer, tails for basketball.
It was a tough call because Toye had made New Jersey’s prestigious Playaz Basketball Club in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL). Alums include Vince Carter, J.R. Smith and Victor Cruz. But the coin landed heads, and Toye stuck to soccer.
He scored 32 goals and added 15 assists that high school season. He was later named All-America by USA Today, was named New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year and committed early to the Hoosiers.
“I had a conversation with my mom (Lynne) earlier this year. (She said), ‘Can you imagine if you just ended up playing basketball where you’d be?’ ” Toye said. “Yeah, probably still in college. I don’t know. I’m happy it worked out this way. I feel like I was always meant to play soccer.”
But last year was the first time in his athletic life he had struggled. His father, Vince, who played college football at Virginia, sends Mason text messages every morning.
“Encouragement,” his father explained. “ ‘You know what you need to do, just go with the intensity and focus and believe in yourself, have a solid training session. I love you and I’m proud of you.’ ”
When Toye scored a recent goal, Lynne sent Mason a video of Vince celebrating from home.
“He was going crazy,” Mason said. “It’s really cool for me because that is my best friend. To be able to put on a performance and make him proud has meant a lot.”