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Kevin O'Toole: There's a strong belief in this group

In this exclusive interview, the 25-year-old tells us about his transition from attacker to defender, and why he still likes "to take on guys on the dribble."

Hudson River Blue spoke with New York City FC's Kevin O'Toole at the club’s training facility in Rockland County, NY. The 25-year-old joined New York City in 2022 after playing at Princeton University, where he was a two-time Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year and logged 15 goals and 18 assists in 59 appearances. Read on to learn more about his transition to left-back, and why this team is different from the one that missed the playoffs last season.

Note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Hudson River Blue: You were a second-round draft pick in 2022, and now you locked down the starting role at left-back. Did you expect this when New York City signed you?

Kevin O'Toole: Yeah, it's a good question. When I was drafted in the second round, my original goal was to earn a roster spot, and that was my mindset. If I earned a roster spot, then I could set the next goal, and that next goal was to earn playing time, and after each subsequent achievement, I've set that goal higher and higher.

So yeah, I'm thrilled with the position I'm in now. I can't say I expected it, but I definitely had a core belief in myself, and thought that if I put in the effort that I could do it.

HRB: Your recent performances at left-back have been really strong. But it's tricky for the average fan to quantify a strong left-back performance – an attacker can point to goals and assists, and there aren't easy stats for a left-back. How do you see your performances evolving?

KO: As an outside back, you can get on the score sheet occasionally. It's not your main role, and I definitely want to contribute more in assists — I think that's a goal of mine. But I also think my main role is to connect the build-up between our back line and our midfield and the forward line, whether it's coming inside and playing more as a midfielder, or as an inverted fullback, or, staying on the touchline and feeding our wingers and getting the ball into Santi in the midfield. That's how I measure my performance on the ball.

And then defensively, it's if I can win my matchup with their winger. Blocking crosses, winning tackles are quantifiable things that I go into every game and just want to win. I want to win all the defensive duels.

That's how I look at it.

HRB: At Princeton, you were more of a traditional attacker. How does that background serve you now? Is it that you're comfortable with the ball at your feet, or that you're always looking for attacking opportunities?

KO: In the beginning, I would say I was maybe a bit, um, too eager with the ball, like trying to over-dribble and taking too many touches. But I think as I've grown into this role, and as I've matured as a player in this club, it's now about picking my moments to take on guys on the dribble. Of course, I'm very comfortable on the ball. And I think that's definitely a credit to my attack-minded background.

And so if it's playing one-touch, two-touch, I feel like I'm capable of doing it. And if it's taking guys on in the dribble, I think I can do that, as well.

HRB: You're having a really strong year, as is the whole team. What's the difference between this year's team and last year's team in terms of the dynamic between the players?

KO: I feel like it was sort of a learning process last year. And there were games where we felt like we were in it until the end, and then something didn't go right in the last five minutes, and we felt like we were a bit down on our luck, I would say.

This year, I think we feel like we're creating our own luck.

We're going out there and earning points, and I think right now there's such a strong belief in the group that on any given match day we can win, and beat the opponent that's in front of us.

HRB: Your recent wins have been very hard fought, very close. I wouldn't call any of them comfortable. What's it like when you're out on the field and the score is that tight?

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