TORONTO – The startled look on Liam Fraser’s face was priceless.
The new Toronto FC signing was one of several players trotted out before the media on Monday as the Reds officially opened their pre-season training camp. Upon entering the press room at the club’s practice facility, and seeing the slew of journalists ready to talk to him – not to mention the bank of TV cameras ready to record his every word – Fraser was instantly taken aback.
“Oh, f—k,” exclaimed Fraser.
He clearly wasn’t ready for all the attention, and his natural reaction of feeling overwhelmed by the press elicited a thunderous laugh from all of the assembled reporters. Don’t expect Fraser to be overwhelmed on the pitch, though.
Fraser, a 19-year-old native of Toronto who exudes California cool, is a former TFC youth academy product who has spent the better part of the last two years playing for the MLS team’s TFC 2 farm club in the second-tier United Soccer League. In total, Fraser made 52 appearances in three seasons for TFC 2, scoring two goals. It was his combination of steady play in the USL and the confidence he showed in doing it that led the MLS club to sign him to a first-team contract last week.
“He works as hard as anyone around this place on his game. He’s proven to us his confidence and competence, both as a defensive midfielder, and confidence as a [person],” coach Greg Vanney said.
Vanney later added: “He is very clever about how he opens up space and how he provides support to the back line when we’re looking to play possession, and his range of passing is as good as most defensive midfielders in this league.”
High praise from the reigning MLS coach of the year, and the man who led TFC to a historic treble in 2017.
For his part, Fraser is not lacking in confidence. He possesses a bit of a swagger about him, and talks like someone who isn’t happy just to make up the numbers for Toronto FC this season.
“I’m not fixated on just signing for the first team. I want to get minutes, I want to play, and hopefully help this team win back-to-back MLS Cups,” Fraser stated.
That’s all well and good, but the reality is that playing time in MLS will likely be scarce for the Canadian youngster this season, and he’ll continue to turn out for TFC 2. Even with the off-season retirement of Benoit Cheyrou, captain Michael Bradley blocks Fraser’s path to regular first-team opportunities, which means he’ll have to bide his time. If Bradley is injured, look for Vanney to change the team’s formation, or use a combination of Marky Delgado and Jonathan Osorio to cover for him.
Fraser is viewed as more of a player for the future, rather than a player for the here and now.
“Liam could develop into a player that could perform admirably for our team, and hopefully grow into a great player, and a core player over the next three to five years. That’s our goal for Liam, but we can’t expect too much from him in his first year, to be honest,” GM Tim Bezbatchenko admitted.
Fraser spent the 2017 pre-season training camp with Toronto FC, and he routinely practised with the first team throughout the regular season campaign, while also playing for TFC 2.
Bradley has paid close attention to Fraser’s progress as he’s come up through the ranks of the TFC organization, and has made it a point to get to know the Canadian youngster. Now, the Reds’ captain is expected to mentor him.
Bradley is not the type who is easily impressed, but he likes what he sees in Fraser.
“You see some young deep midfielders and they never play any passes forward – everything is backwards, everything is side to side. Those can be important passes in terms of giving the team rhythm and flow and pause, but your ability in that spot to also play forward and bring people into the game, to get some of your important attacking players on the ball, those can be challenging things,” Bradley explained.
“Liam as a young guy has good starting points in those ways. For him, the challenge will be to try to take everything that he can do at a youth level or at the USL level and make sure he can start to consistently translate into things at this level.”
Fraser is eager to learn from Bradley.
“I’m definitely not taking it for granted, to have what I think is the best midfielder in all of MLS to take me under his wing and show me the ropes,” Fraser offered.