John Tolkin is a rather unassuming character. He is not the biggest, or the loudest on the field. He is not very active on social media, without a single highlight in sight. Instead, he lets his play on the field do the talking. In short, he is a baller.
Tolkin is a natural soccer player, who understands the game and is not afraid of the moment. However, he is still a young kid, afraid of his drivers test, and a bit spooked by plane rides.
“He’s got more dedication and determination about him than sometimes he shows,” said New York Red Bulls II coach John Wolyniec. “When you just casually talking to him. I think it strikes a good balance for him you know it allows him to be a little bit carefree and relaxed.”
When Tolkin made his debut against Bethlehem Steel FC, NYRBII were down two goals. It could have been easily assumed John Wolyniec was throwing in the towel, looking to get a young academy player some minutes.
Instead, the team came all the way back, winning 4-3, and John Tolkin recorded the game tying assist. This assist was not any ordinary assist. Tolkin orchestrated the entire play, and showed his confidence and his ability, sending a perfect pass to Tom Barlow in stride. Wolyniec admits that the score allowed an opportunity to get Tolkin minutes, but he wasn’t expecting him to spark a comeback. Tolkin showed he is with the team for a reason.
“We know that he’s got some special talents, and there was a reason why he he’s with us,” said Wolyniec ahead of a match with the first place Tampa Bay Rowdies. “And there’s a reason why he ends up on the field. He’s got abilities, and now it’s just kind of measuring those abilities and where they are right now, and how they fit in with us.”
Later in the same week, Tolkin got his first start at left back against Atlanta United 2, the position he plays for the USA U-17 national team. He recorded another assist, shutdown vaunted Atlanta prospect Andrew Carleton, and earned a penalty. He handled his defensive responsibilities well and flexed his technical skills with beautiful cross field passes to Marcus Epps, and smooth combination play with Jared Stroud and Janos Loebe later.
Tolkin was once again in the game day roster against Memphis 901 FC. He came on with the score close at 2-1. While NYRBII gave up the lead, the fact the coaching staff had the confidence to put him in that situation shows you the confidence they have in the 16 year old.
Tolkin earned another start right away in a big time matchup against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. The Rowdies entered the match in first place, and soundly defeated NYRBII at home earlier this season. Despite Wolyniec stating before the match that he is not a guy that’s gonna show up on the stat sheet every week, Tolkin did just that. Reading a Mathias Jorgenson run perfectly, he slipped in a perfectly measured pass, recording his 3rd assist in 4 games.
“His best qualities are just that he’s an intelligent, technical, courageous soccer player,” relayed Wolyniec. “He has a good sense about it, and that’s why we put him different positions. He seems to handle it in a great way.”
The path to the II’s
John Michael Tolkin, referred to as ‘JMi’ (pronounced: Jay my) by his teammates, has been in the academy since 2015. However, it was as a 15 year old in 2018 when his name got on John Wolyniec’s radar. Between Wolyniec’s rapport with the academy coaches, and Tolkin’s national team call-ups, Wolyniec quickly learned Tolkin’s name.
In the same year, Tolkin moved up to the U-19 level, which is the last step for academy kids before getting NYRBII opportunities. It wasn’t until the summer that Wolyniec got a chance to work with Tolkin directly.
“We put him out there, and it is a kind of a small sided thing, and he went right to work”, Wolyniec recalled. “[Tolkin] started calling out people, driving, and even talking a little bit to the players. We don’t often see that from young players. So you know that kind of courageous fearlessness about him stood out quickly, and then you know, he shows you quickly what his left foot could do.”
Clearly on the clubs radar, Tolkin’s stock continued to rise. He was a U-17 regular, set to be part of the qualifying tournament, and had earned a chance to join the New York Red Bulls first team on their preseason trip to Florida. At this time many, including Wolyniec, thought he would be a part of the USL team from the start.
However, getting kids involved is not always straight forward. They have many responsibilities to balance. For Tolkin, it was a shift to homeschooling with a packed soccer schedule full of travel. The plan was to have him training with the first or second team. However, a few factors altered that plan.
“Obviously a young kid on the road a little bit more than he was planning on, got behind on his work,” said Wolyniec. “And then there was a little bit of an injury and then, U-17 responsibilities started coming around.”
With a few setbacks the team decided to let John finish the season with the U-19’s as they worked through the playoffs. The team gave him a break after the season with Wolyniec stating, “We’re expecting him to be in quite a bit”
What is next?
With heavy involvement at both the first team and second team expected, John Tolkin will continue to have the chance to impress fans and coaches. One thing that is not clear is, where on the field he will do it? This is a question that John Wolyniec doesn’t have an answer to, yet.
“Sometimes it helps to be a guy that locks down a position,” said Wolyniec. “But he’s definitely one of those guys that can play anywhere. You know? Again, if you look at his fearlessness, that always helps to play in different spots. Soccer IQ, intelligence, and awareness factor. Tactically he’s pretty good. So that always helps to play different positions “
One thing that anyone who has seen him play over the last month sees, is that he is technically sound and his left foot his pure gold.
“He’s got a gift there,” said Wolyniec about Tolkin’s ability with his left. “So do you use that as a left back so that he can put service in, or do you use that in the middle of his field to get around goal?”
With the team rating him highly, the future is incredibly bright for this emerging star. A future that could have him signing a homegrown deal sooner rather than late.
Photo by John Perdicaro