Tony Gallacher reflected on his spell in Major League Soccer with Toronto FC by stating: "It was exactly what I needed."
The Academy full-back recently returned to Liverpool following a three-month stay across the Atlantic during which he gained invaluable first-team experience.
Gallacher played the full 90 minutes of the mini-derby against Everton on his U23s comeback last week and is now preparing for Saturday's Premier League 2 meeting with Manchester United - a game you can watch live on LFCTV and LFCTV GO from 12.55pm GMT.
Read on as Gallacher discusses his time in MLS and much more with Liverpoolfc.com...
Tony, welcome back to the Academy. How good is it to see the lads and staff again after your loan spell?
It's great. On my return they were all asking me how it was, because obviously it's something different and something they are not used to. I don't think anyone else has done it before so they were just asking me about it and what the football was like over there. They were all welcoming, it was good to see them all again and the staff.
How did the move to Toronto come about?
It was quite sudden, if I'm being honest with you. The left-back they had was picking up a lot of injuries and is coming towards the end of his career now, so I think it came to the point when they just wanted some security there in myself. It was on a Sunday they contacted my agent and at first I was like, 'Have you got the right club there and how has that even came about?' There wasn't any rumours flying around but they wanted me in and wanted pretty much a straight yes or no answer. I just felt the chance to play out in the MLS was a great opportunity and there are some massive names out there. So, it was quite an easy decision for me to go out there, despite everything being a little bit chaotic there with the pandemic. It just came about quite suddenly and it all happened quite fast. I didn't really know what to think because I was waiting for a phone call from my agent anyway, just to say maybe a League One club or, fingers crossed, a team from the Championship wanted me and I would have been over the moon. When he said Toronto it really caught me off guard because I wasn't expecting it - but it worked out great and I really enjoyed it.
Picture courtesy of Toronto FC
You had to quarantine in Toronto when you arrived but you never actually played there, did you?
When I got there I had to do a two-week quarantine, which wasn't ideal. That was in Toronto and we had three games during that time. I was sitting in a little hotel, but I had to deal with that. The club sorted any issues that I had, so a hats off to them because they were great in helping me with anything I needed. As soon as I got there I was transported to the hotel, then locked down for two weeks and couldn't go anywhere. The hotel was pretty much in a big housing estate and wasn't in the city so I didn't get to see any views or anything. Once I was out of my quarantine we trained for four days but at that time it was very strict, so it was just training and then straight home, don't go anywhere, don't go out and don't get caught trying to go out. We were then given the go-ahead to play our matches in the USA so off we went to Connecticut and we were in a hotel there for the good part of two-and-a-half months. All the home games I played for Toronto were at an American football stadium in Connecticut. It was a nice stadium to be fair, with a decent pitch as well. The away days were nice, playing in New York City, Washington - all good life experiences as well, getting to see different areas.
To start with I was searching about Toronto and looking at places to go and see but, as you know, that wasn't to be the case. The fact my girlfriend couldn't come over, my family couldn't come and visit me, there was none of that so I was literally on my own. It was just a case of head down and focus on my football. Despite that side of it I definitely missed not being able to see any of Toronto, but all I was focused on anyway was the football and to get that was more than enough for myself.
What was playing in MLS like?
It was great. I'm so glad I did it and I don't regret a minute of it at all. I was glad I was so open to it. I'll be honest, I didn't know much about the league at all going into it or what the standard was like. The first game I played was against New York City and I hadn't played many minutes before that. The manager told me I was starting and that was a tough, tough game. They were a very aggressive team so it was definitely an eye-opener for me, but I couldn't have picked a better game, to be honest, to start off in. The standard was better than I expected it to be and it was a great move for my career. It might not technically be up there with the Premier League or Championship yet but you can tell the league is definitely growing year by year. That was its 25th anniversary so where they have got it to right now is excellent. It's exactly what I needed - playing against men, against players that have played in Europe - so for me it was ideal.
How about that ball from Tony, eh? #TORvPHI | #TFCLive https://t.co/7WluEHVjYo— TorontoFC (Toronto FC) 4th Oct 00:56
What are your personal highlights from your time there?
There were a few. I got one assist that I was quite happy with. I didn't start the game but then the left-back got injured midway through the first half and I came on. We were losing 1-0 to Philadelphia Union and in the second half I got a perfect ball played in behind. All I had to do was take a good touch and look up, and I saw Ayo Akinola at the back post and I just whipped the ball into him, things we did all the time in training. It was just one of those where I've connected perfectly and he's put it into the back of the net. We ended up winning 2-1 so that was a great moment in the changing rooms afterwards when all of the lads were congratulating me.
A bit of an Andy Robertson-style assist, then?!
I wish! I wish I was that good!
Do you feel that you learned plenty while you were there?
Definitely, yes, 100 per cent. Because you are playing for three points in every game so every minute, every point, is important. The game management and game detail going into each match was certainly something to learn from and I've brought that back with me.
And the likes of Alex Inglethorpe and Barry Lewtas kept in touch while you were away, too...
Yes, they are always very supportive. I think Baz was gutted he couldn't get a flight over! No, I'm only joking, they are both great people. They were in contact with me quite a lot, always asking how I was doing and our physios were doing regular check-ups with me, too.
It's been quite a journey for you over the last year or so, from making your first-team debut in December 2019 to a spell in MLS...
Definitely. It's mad to think the Aston Villa game was over a year ago now, that time has absolutely flown by and it sounds ridiculous to say that out loud. That's a moment I will never forget at all. Everyone was asking me in the lead-up to it if I was nervous and things like that but I was just taking it all in, taking in the experience. It wasn't a fluke but it was a situation that doesn't occur all that often with the first team out in Qatar. Walking out at Villa Park in front of all those fans was unbelievable and hearing our fans who had come out that night to support us as well. If I was to say two years ago what I've done up to now, I would definitely not have believed that.
Your first game back with the U23s was the small matter of a derby against Everton - and you played right-back...
Not a bad choice of a game that, was it?! Playing at right-back, that was Critch [Neil Critchley] who asked me to play there last year for a run of games. I'm glad he did it because it showed I can be trusted to fill in gaps that need to be filled. I quite enjoy it, you don't obviously get as much freedom going down the line as I would on my left foot but I'm happy to play there for the team.
Finally, at 21 you are a young man yourself but plenty of the lads at the Academy, such as Tyler Morton, see you as someone to look up to. Do you feel it is important to speak with and help them where you can?
It's strange because only two years ago I was one of the younger ones and now I'm one of the oldest - well, Joe Hardy can now take the oldest tag! I definitely try to be as professional as I can. At this age it's easy to lose your way and get side-tracked and become unfocused. When I was in Tyler's position I was doing exactly the same thing and looking up to the more experienced lads, so if I can do little things that just help in little ways then that would count for bigger things in the future, so I try to do that.