After being thrown into the deep end with Toronto FC in 2021, defender Luke Singh found himself facing different challenges last season on loan with FC Edmonton.
And while he relished the opportunity he got in the Canadian Premier League, the 22-year-old admits playing for a franchise in limbo wasn't easy.
The CPL took over the club in December 2021 while the search for new ownership continued. Fellow CPL teams sent players out on loan to Edmonton to help fill out the troubled team's roster. The league eventually folded the franchise in November after it finished last in the standings at 4-16-8.
"It was a really different situation for me. Just because we had no owner," said Singh. "We were missing a lot of staff from different departments."
With just one physio on hand, players took their turn for treatment.
Still, the players, many of whom lived together, bonded after being shipped to a team with an uncertain future.
"I wouldn't say (we were) the leftovers but nobody had their egos," said Singh. "We all just played freely. We all played just to prove ourselves."
"It was more like a family … There was a nice vibe with the team," he added.
Singh played in 23 games for Edmonton, logging 2,012 minutes, and led the team with 1,010 passes.
"It was nice to just get a game every week," he said.
A rash of injuries in the 2021 pre-season rocketed Singh up the Toronto depth chart. In April 2021, he signed two short-term deals with the MLS side to play in Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League round-of-16 matches against Mexico’s Club Leon.
Then-manager Chris Armas gave Singh his pro debut with Toronto when he came off the bench in the 87th minute in the first game against Leon on April 7.
"I felt like I wanted to cry after," Singh said. "You always dream of making your debut."
He made his first start for Toronto in the April 14 rematch. Two days later he signed as a homegrown player through 2025, becoming the 26th player in club history to join the first team from the TFC academy.
Singh then started league matches at Montreal and against Vancouver in Orlando, one of TFC's pandemic homes, where he scored in the seventh minute of a 2-2 tie, tapping in the deflection of Omar Gonzalez’s header.
"I was ecstatic. I couldn't believe it," he said recalling the goal.
Playing opportunities dried up, however, and he finished the 2021 season having made eight appearances in all competitions.
"It was definitely an up-and-down year for me," said Singh. "Just getting thrown in games sometimes. But that's how it is."
Back in camp with TFC, Singh is taking it day-by-day.
"I'm taking it one training session at a time. I'm not worried about anything else right now. I'm just worried about this pre-season. Just to be in the squad and training with these top guys is always a pleasure."
Toronto coach Bob Bradley says Singh reported to camp "fitter (and) leaner" this season and had a better understanding of what's expected.
"He's had a much better start to this year than he did last year. So that's positive," Bradley added. "I don't think a final decision has been made on his status."
While Singh had proved in the past he is a good passer when he has time on the ball, Bradley said the young defender needed to improve his footwork and mobility.
"I think that he understood coming into this pre-season that he needed to prepare better than he did a year ago. And so I would give him credit that so far the work in pre-season has improved," the coach said.
Singh tried out unsuccessfully for the Toronto FC academy at 13. He was a midfielder at the time but the tryout came as a right back.
He made the grade in 2017 as a 17-year-old, with academy coaches shifting him to centre back from midfield.
In 2019, Singh joined Toronto FC II and, as an 18-year-old, was sent on loan in March to Denmark's Brondby IF for the remainder of the season, scoring two goals in 24 appearances.
"Probably the best football year I had, to be honest," Singh said.
In Denmark he learned from the likes of Brondby teammate Hany Mukhtar, who went on to earn MLS MVP honours in 2022 with Nashville SC.
"A lot of them (Brondby players) were looking out for me," Singh said. "Nobody there had egos."
Singh was 13 when he made his debut in the Canadian youth program at an identification camp in 2014. Singh went on to represent Trinidad and Tobago, his parents' home country, at youth level.
Both Trinidad and Canada reached out to him ahead of the 2021 Gold Cup. He opted to see what life was like in the Canada camp but as yet to choose his international future.
"I don't know right now what I'll do," he said.
Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2023.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press