Fraser Aird’s first experience with Major League Soccer came when he was 12.
He was in the stands with his father and brother at BMO Field, cheering on Toronto FC. The trio held season tickets—tickets the family still holds today.
Now, nearly nine years later, the Canadian international is preparing to experience the league as a player, after joining the Vancouver Whitecaps on loan for the 2016 season.
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“I was still a young boy,” recalled Aird, talking with reporters on a conference call from Tucson, Arizona, where the Whitecaps are beginning pre-season. “In the main stand, when Robbo [Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson] used to play there, and then when I moved over to Scotland, my dad and brother kept their season tickets and they still follow Toronto FC closely to this day.
“It will be interesting when we go and play them on May 14 at BMO Field in the league. I just wonder who they’ll be supporting that day.”
In between watching that first TFC season and now, the Toronto-born fullback has spent time playing for Rangers, one of Scotland’s most storied clubs.
Aird moved to Great Britain just after turning 16 and has already played 85 matches for Rangers—a remarkable tally by North American standards, where players are often drafted by MLS clubs at age 21 or 22 with no professional experience.
Born to Scottish parents, Aird flirted with representing Scotland, rather than Canada at international level. Indeed, he played for Scotland from the U-17 to U-19 level, before eventually opting to represent his nation of birth at senior level.
In many ways, Aird’s return to Canada for club and country is down to opportunities.
He was a regular starter for Rangers as the club battled its way back up that country’s football pyramid following relegation imposed due to financial issues. Now that the team is battling for promotion back to the Scottish Premier League, he’s found himself out of favour.
The Whitecaps have a transfer option on this deal if they would like to permanently acquire Aird after this season. But what would the player prefer? Would he like to use this loan spell as a chance to springboard back into consideration for Rangers, or is he trying to earn his way into becoming a regular for the Whitecaps?
“I wouldn’t say I would be earning a contract here,” said Aird when asked that question by Sportsnet.
“It’s a season-long loan to get games. My club is still Rangers at this minute. Vancouver is only the club I’m on loan to, but further down the line, you can’t predict the future. If I come here and I love it, I get on with the manager, I go and play 25, 35 games, you never know what can happen.
“But at the end of the day, I’m here to play football and just take it each step at a time. I don’t want to look too far ahead. I still have 18 months left on my contract at Rangers.”
While his long-term future may remain ambiguous, what is fairly clear is that Aird will be competing for playing time at right fullback against Jordan Smith, a 24-year-old Costa Rican on loan from Deportivo Saprissa.
The two players are benefitting from the departure of Steven Beitashour, the starting right fullback the club traded to Toronto FC this off-season after failing to come to terms on a new contract.
Physically, the players offer Robinson very different options. Smith is a physically imposing athlete, standing at six-feet-one, which is tall by the standards of fullbacks.
Aird is built like a more conventional fullback. Lightweight, mobile and standing at five-feet-eight, he doesn’t mind slotting in as a right fullback for Vanocuver after playing much of his time at Rangers on the wing.
“In football these days, right backs are very attacking players. They come into the game quite a lot, and a lot more than they used to, especially when the wingers go inside, fullbacks have the freedom of the width of the pitch going forward,” Aird stated.
“They’re very attacking-minded players these days, the way football is. So, no, I’m happy playing that position. As I said before, whenever I get the chance to play, wherever it is, I’ll give it 100 percent. I’m still young, still learning, so the more positions I can learn how to play can only benefit me.”
Martin MacMahon is a Vancouver-based writer. Follow him on Twitter