TORONTO -- How important was Ryan Nelsen to Queens Park Rangers?
Attacking midfielder Hogan Ephraim reckons the former New Zealand defender will be chosen QPR player of the year despite quitting the English Premier League club in mid-season to manage Toronto FC.
So when Nelsen reached out to his former QPR clubmate with an invitation to play in MLS, Ephraim listened.
The 24-year-old had always had a yearning to play abroad but Nelsen sealed the deal.
"Ryan being here, that was the main pulling point for me," said Ephraim. "I've known him well and he's shown great faith in me. To come all the way over here and to give me the phone call and tell me he wants to sign me, that was great encouragement.
"I had been playing a lot (on loan) in the (second-tier) Championship in England. There were a few offers there but this was just something different out of my comfort zone. And something challenging. And that just excited me massively."
On the field, the five-foot-eight, 154-pound Englishman is lively and energetic.
Ryan has deployed him just off Welsh striker Robert Earnshaw. The partnership paid off Saturday in a 2-0 win over Sporting Kansas City, with Ephraim's pressure on the Kansas City defence leading to Earnshaw's first goal.
Nelsen spent some seven or eight months training with Ephraim at QPR.
"I know what Hogan's like as a character, as a person and his (soccer) technique. And I know that's something we need in the team to help complement what we've got," he said.
Ephraim is clearly a huge fan of Nelsen.
"The club (QPR) misses him massively. The reception he got for his final appearance against Man City was fantastic," he said. "I still think he'll win QPR player of the season, which sounds a bit crazy considering he left three or four months early.
"But he was a fantastic player, a great professional and someone who demands respect for what he's done in the game and how he carries himself as a person. I think that he's shown the same abilities as a manager and you can see how the boys are reacting."
A native of North London, Ephraim grew up near Arsenal but has always been a fan of Manchester United.
"I think Eric Cantona was the main pulling attraction and seeing great players like that was inspiring," he said of his support for the Red Devils.
He was 11 when he signed with the renowned West Ham academy -- which produced the likes of Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Glen Johnson, Michael Carrick and Jermaine Defoe.
That led to loan spells with Colchester United (2006-07) and then QPR in 2007, with the youngster eventually making the move permanent to the London club.
"I thoroughly enjoyed my time there at QPR but now I'm just concentrating on doing well here and impressing the people here."
He helped QPR win promotion in the 2010-11 campaign -- "A fairy-tale season," he recalls -- but was also loaned out to Leeds United, Charlton Athletic and Bristol City during his time there.
He was with QPR this season but wasn't seeing playing time other than a few times on the bench. So he asked to go out on loan again.
"I've enjoyed everywhere I've been," he said. "It's all been experience and it's helped me to be the player and the man I am today. I just want to continue growing as a person as a player and I think these (loan) spells have helped me."
His soccer skills also earned him time with the England U16, U17, U18 and U19 squads.
He's played all across the midfield but his favourite role is the one he's playing at Toronto FC, just off the main striker.
Ephraim is especially enjoying playing with the shifty Earnshaw, who has a nice turn of speed.
"I love strikers like that. (With) their movement, they're a nightmare for defenders to play against -- always buzzing about," Ephraim said.
He didn't know much about MLS or North America, with vacation trips to Los Angeles and Las Vegas his only experience on this side of the Atlantic.
"I came out here with an open mind. I didn't know what to expect really but it's been refreshing," he said. "Everything's been perfect. You're never left wanting at this club. The facilities are fantastic, the staff here are great and you've got a great bunch of lads.
"Hopefully we can put in some good performances because the crowd we had on the weekend was fantastic and I think we owe them some performances."
As luck would have it, he has played in two domed stadiums in his first two games: B.C. Place and Rogers Centre.
He's thoroughly enjoyed both atmospheres, noting that fans here seem a little friendlier than in some English stadiums.
"I can't wait to experience more," he said.
Ephraim is on loan to Toronto through June with the club having a subsequent option.
He says he just wants to do his best, enjoys his football and then let Toronto and QPR decide what's next.
There is no story behind his first name, other than Hogan is his father's name. And his brother was named after his uncle.
"Just keeping it in the family, really," he said with a smile.
He wears No. 31, which he says is his favourite number (his birthday is March 31). He had it at West Ham but couldn't wear it at QPR, which retired the number in honour of teenage striker Ray Jones, who died in a car accident in 2007.