TORONTO — Kevin Silva can thank pre-teen baby fat for a move that helped turn soccer into a profession.
"I grew up as a striker actually," he explained. "I was a bit chubby growing up so at the point when one of our goalkeepers went down, the next person to go in goal is always the chubby guy.
"I played the game, I really enjoyed it. From there, I was like 'Yeah, I'll be a goalie.' It's turned out to be a little blessing."
Silva was 12 or 13 at the time. Today the 22-year-old from Bethlehem, Penn., stands six feet, weighs a trim 187 pounds and serves as Toronto FC's third goalkeeper.
He has not forgotten his striker skills on the ball.
"I'd say that's a big strength in my game," he said. "Growing up, playing in the (out)field for a period of time has helped me be comfortable with the ball at my feet. And growing up at my old academy PDA (Players Development Academy in Somerset, N.J.) my coach (Tyler Stakiwicz, now an assistant at Rutgers University) was really aware of what was going on in the new goalkeeping era and really wanted to implement that into my game pretty early on, as soon as I got there.
"I think it's been something that's helped me out a lot. I really appreciate it. I didn't really understand why he wanted me doing that at that age. But it's helped me and helped pay off. It's something I enjoy. I enjoy having the ball at my feet. I understand it just gives the team an extra player on the field."
After spending part of 2019 on loan to Toronto FC 2 from Scotland's Hearts, Silva joined TFC's reserve side permanently in January before signing a first-team deal in July ahead of the MLS is Back Tournament in Florida.
Toronto coach Greg Vanney, while acknowledging the role of third 'keeper isn't easy especially with COVID-19 limiting opportunities in lower leagues, says Silva has put his head down, kept working and getting better.
"He's doing great ... He is an ideal third goalkeeper right now because he's young, he's developing," said Vanney. "He's got qualities similar to Q (starter Quentin Westberg). He's not the biggest goalkeeper (but) he's got really good feet.
"He's very competent, like a field player almost," he added. "So that's been nice ... And he's a really good communicator. Feels confident about communicating and leading. And he's a good goalkeeper. There's things that (goalkeeping coach) Jon Conway and the goalkeeper crew are working on to continue to develop him. But he's a really good guy, a really hard worker and he fits into our group really well."
Prior to joining Toronto FC II, Silva made five appearances for Heart of Midlothian FC reserve side in 2018 and later spent time on loan with Raith Rovers FC of the Scottish Third Division.
Silva played collegiately at UCLA, playing in 30 matches with seven clean sheets in two seasons. He then transferred to Rutgers but never saw action, making the move to Scotland where he spent some 18 months.
"I'd say it was a good experience," he said. "It was my first professional environment -- good coaching staff, great players. It was a good experience to see what a day in a professional environment was for me ... I think it helped me mature as a player and also as a person."
Silva was part of the U.S. youth setup, from under-14 to under-19.
Despite restrictions due to the pandemic, Silva says he is enjoying his time as a Toronto FC player. He believes the MLS team's playing style is better suited to his skills. And he is learning by training alongside Westberg and Alex Bono.
"They push me every day and they really help me focus on little things to correct. To be training with them and learning from them has been really fun ... I'm really blessed to be a part of this group."
Silva wears No. 90, a number given to him when he joined TFC 2. He had hoped to get No. 99 with the first team but striker Ifunanyachi Achara beat him to it.
"I'll make it my number," he said of No. 90.
Silva and Toronto FC headed back to their pandemic home away from home in East Hartford, Conn., on Wednesday after a couple of days back home. Toronto "hosts" the Philadelphia Union on Saturday in a battle of 8-2-4 clubs at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 30, 2020
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press