One of many things the 2023 Toronto FC season proved was that the team needs more firepower in attack. Could part of the solution lie in college soccer?

TFC draft pick and Western Michigan University forward Charlie Sharp had quite the 2023. 

The 22-year-old found the back of the net 19 times in 20 matches for his Broncos, good for most in all of Division I soccer. His scoring touch brought WMU to back-to-back conference titles and another Round of 16 appearance in the NCAA national tournament, and his stellar individual season has him up for the MAC Hermann Trophy, an annual award given to the top men’s and women’s players in college soccer.

Just less than a year ago, the Reds selected Sharp in the third round of the 2023 MLS SuperDraft. He didn’t earn a contract with either the senior team or Toronto FC II in the leadup to the 2023 season so he instead returned to Kalamazoo for his final rodeo as a fifth-year senior. It’s safe to say the imposing forward lit things up. After TFC drafted him based on an impressive 2022 season, he almost doubled his scoring numbers in 2023.

Though he doesn’t currently have a deal in place with TFC, the Reds still have first dibs on Sharp’s Major League Soccer rights up until the end of 2024. Given the lack of scoring witnessed over the course of the 2023 campaign, signing the First Team All-American to a contract with either the senior team or, more likely, the MLS NEXT Pro side seems like a low-risk, high-reward move for a club in need of goals.

Working with an already bloated group of forwards, it might at first seem incongruous that Toronto’s front office would add another striker to a crop of No. 9s which has largely failed to inspire confidence. Deandre Kerr had his moments this year and is probably John Herdman’s top option to lead the line as things stand, but behind him lies Cassius Mailula, Prince Owusu, Ayo Akinola, Adama Diomande, Jordan Perruzza, and Hugo Mbongue.

Related read: Why TFC should use their sole contract buyout on Adama Diomande

Mailula and Owusu will probably get a chance to impress since they are still relatively new signings, and it’s not far stretched to think Herdman tries to reignite Akinola’s career given their history with the Canadian men’s national team, even though he hasn’t looked like an MLS-calibre striker since tearing his ACL in 2021. Nonetheless, the club should be open to exploring options up top considering no TFC player has scored more than 10 league goals in a season since 2019.

The problem is that a splashy acquisition at forward isn’t realistic as long as Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi are still on the books. That rumoured fourth Designated Player slot isn’t on the way either. All in all, TFC will likely need to find a way to boost their league-low attacking numbers from 2023 without breaking the bank on a proven commodity if the two Italian wingers are still part of Herdman’s project come February.

For that reason, signing Sharp to a ‘prove it’ deal with the Young Reds seems like a reasonable move to make. With the statuses of Julian Altobelli and Reshaun Walkes up in the air, Jésus Batiz is currently the only forward on the TFC II roster heading into 2024, and the Honduran is more of a winger anyway. There should be plenty of minutes for Sharp to eat up in MLS NEXT Pro and if he does well, he could make the step up to the senior side.

So often during this past season, it felt like if the Reds conceded first there was no way back into a game. That needs to change. TFC needs to become tougher to play against and show more spirit than what fans have become accustomed to. Herdman will want to be leading players who have a fierce desire to win and, according to his coaches, that’s exactly what Sharp brings to the table.

“He is that player every coach dreams of having the opportunity to coach, and an absolute nightmare to think about playing or coaching against,” said his former head coach at Brighton High School, Mark Howell in a recent interview with Michigan Soccer Network. “He plays the game with an incredible level of energy and passion that breeds belief and confidence.”

The “ultimate competitor” is how Chad Wiseman, his coach at WMU, describes Sharp. When you watch the tape, you begin to understand what his coaches are going on about. At 6 foot 5 inches, Sharp is a handful for a defender at any level.

More than just a penalty box poacher, his hat trick against Green Bay in the opening round of this year’s NCAA tournament showed how he can deliver from different areas of the field. A direct free kick, header, and powerful right-footed shot from open play pushed the Broncos through to the second round. His confidence is plain to see and he has a swagger to his play and goal celebrations.

It’s obviously no guarantee that Sharp’s scoring prowess translates to the next level, but strikers such as Cyle Larin, Daryl Dike, and most recently Duncan McGuire (there might be something in the water down in Orlando) have shown that hot prospects from the college game can get in the goals in MLS.

TFC is a club in need of a rebuild and part of that needs to include a shift in mentality, as well as consistent goalscoring. Sharp probably won’t be the solution at striker for this team, and he shouldn’t be expected to be, but at the very least he can be part of the solution.