After fifteen appearances, including eleven starts, Jeremy Brockie has completed his loan deal with Toronto FC of Major League Soccer and has returned to New Zealand to rejoin both Wellington Phoenix and the All Whites. In those four months at Toronto, Brockie scored a brilliant goal against Montreal Impact and contributed three assists as the Reds had two different three-game unbeaten streaks in what has been an otherwise difficult season.
The 25-year-old forward took advantage of the opportunity to avoid the A-League's offseason by playing in MLS after the Phoenix worked with Ryan Nelsen to facilitate the loan. Said Wellington general manager David Dome back in May,
"We trusted Ryan from the outset - and of course he knows the player very well. We know that TFC has great facilities and of course the MLS is a well-respected competition so we knew we could rely on Jeremy being well looked after."
Indeed, now that he has returned, Brockie has nothing but good things to say about his time in Toronto. Though the team was not as successful as they could have been, for the Kiwi attacker, the experience was about more than simply wins and losses. Said Brockie via email from Saudi Arabia, where he is part of the All Whites side competing in two friendlies over the week:
"One of the main reasons I spent my offseason playing in the MLS was the opportunity to experience a different professional league as I have spent all my professional career in the A-League. I only knew the A-League from that point of view before I left for the MLS so I really didn't know what to expect. But I must say, after arriving in Toronto, I was blown away by the training facilities. I'm used to traveling in the A-League but it was also great to see a few different American cities."
After finishing second for the A-League's golden boot in 2012/13, Brockie returns to a completely new Phoenix side now under the management of Ernie Merrick. Long-time players like Tony Lochhead have been let go and a nice crop of youngsters have been signed to aid in lifting Wellington from the wooden spoon position they inhabited last season. Merrick was appointed after Brockie left for Toronto, so until he returned to New Zealand last week, the player and coach had not discussed the new season in person. Said Brockie,
"I had a couple of conversations with Ernie Merrick while I was in Toronto but nothing too detailed. I think he's a great appointment for our club as he has a fantastic record in the A-League so it's a step in the right direction for us. The experience I have gained from Ryan [Nelsen] and playing in the MLS has been valuable and I'll be taking a few things back to the A-League, as well."
What many Phoenix fans want to know is whether or not Brockie will stay with the club in the longer term. Having completed his first season in Wellington in March, the team's top goal scorer is a key returning piece for Merrick and the project he has inherited in New Zealand. While it is unlikely that Merrick would send Brockie away again during the season, especially as the MLS season comes to a close in less than two months, there is now a working relationship with an MLS club where future loans could take place:
"I really enjoyed my time in the MLS and the league is well known and only going in one direction. I have two years still to run on my contract in Wellington but if there were another opportunity to move on loan at some stage again, I would definitely consider it."
Nelsen's future in Toronto will surely have a role to play in how soon or viable such a move would be, but there is no denying loan deals between A-League and MLS clubs can benefit both sides again. And though from the outside, Toronto can seem like a dysfunctional club without much direction, yet Brockie's experience as a player comes across differently:
"The thing I will miss the most in leaving Toronto is the professionalism of the club and how well it is set up. It's a great club and I think it's heading in the right direction. I think next season will be the one where you see TFC in the playoffs for the first time in the club's short history."
Perhaps Brockie will be a key part of a Toronto FC postseason berth in 2014. Or maybe after playing continuously for eighteen months he'll want that normal offseason rest. A World Cup place could be on the cards for New Zealand, too, which would restrict his ability to do anything club related next winter. Regardless, the Phoenix have a fully fit Brockie in a clear ascent entering the new A-League season.