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Former Toronto FC forward Mo Babouli finds new home with CPL's Forge FC


Three years after being discarded by Toronto FC, forward Mo Babouli has found a new home with Hamilton's Forge FC.

His journey to the Canadian Premier League champion was circuitous, with a stint in the Syrian Premier League with Al-Ittihad SC Aleppo. A subsequent contract impasse with the Syrian club delayed his return to action, with Babouli moving indoors to play for the now-defunct Mississauga MetroStars.

"It's definitely been an adventure," said Babouli. "Different experiences, different feelings, different scenarios. But I try to take the positive out of these things and move forward."

While the 27-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., has been training with Forge FC for the last six weeks, his signing was only announced this week.

"A lot of people will say he hasn't played at the top level in maybe a year or so but he's come into camp, he's looked good," said Forge head coach Bobby Smyrniotis. "We've put him through the paces and he's ready to go."

All eight CPL teams leave Saturday for Prince Edward Island where the second-year league will kick off its pandemic-delayed season on Aug. 13. Smyrniotis hopes Babouli brings goals with him.

"He's a player I know very well," said Smyrniotis, who coached Babouli with League 1's Ontario Sigma FC in 2017.

"Mo is a player who, at every level he's played, has shown a consistent ability to score goals. He's a player who can score from a variety of places and when you're going into an event that's so short with the games tight together I think that's a quality that is very important."

Playing in Syria had its ups and downs.

Aleppo was once Syria's largest city and the country's industrial and financial centre. But it became a battleground from 2012 to 2016 in the Syrian civil war.

"The majority of the times I was safe," said Babouli, who played there in 2017-18. "There was a lot of getting used to. Obviously I wouldn't see anything like that around here. But I must say that from the time I did arrive to the time that I left, things got significantly better.

"The community was better, the people started coming back. It was nice to see that in the city and the country in general ... I met some good people down there."

Born in the United Arab Emirates, Babouli was three when his family moved to Canada. He speaks Arabic and has family all over the Middle East.

He won't forget his time in Syria — or what his parents went through in coming to Canada.

"You can't really, I guess, grasp what anyone has had to go through until seeing stuff like that. And the sacrifices people have made to give their kids and family a better life," he said. "I appreciate it now more because I have gone through that and I have been down there and seen the lifestyle and what people do go through."

Toronto waived Babouli in April 2017.

After impressing in training camp in 2016, he made 16 appearances (including six starts) and showed flashes of skill and was given a chance to showcase his talents when Jozy Altidore was sidelined with a hamstring injury.

But fellow Canadian Jordan Hamilton began to get more playing time and Babouli, a technically gifted attacker who favours playing a false No. 9 role than target man, fell down the pecking order. An injured ankle limited him to start the 2017 season.

Babouli admits to being upset and somewhat shocked at his TFC release, hinting there is more to the story than has been told.

"I'm alive and I'm healthy so I'm not going to dwell on the past," he said.

Babouli joined the Toronto FC academy in January 2014, winning the League 1 MVP and Golden Boot awards with the senior academy team. He signed with Toronto FC II in March 2015.

In 2015, he represented Canada at the Pan American Games and CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament. He scored in his debut for Canada against Brazil at the Pan Ams.

The former Canadian youth international scored 21 goals in 22 games for the indoor MetroStars, enjoying both the challenge and chance to play at home again. He also saw some action outdoors with FC Ukraine United of the semi-pro Canadian Soccer League.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 7, 2020.


Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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