TORONTO – The easiest thing for Jon Bakero would have been to remain in Spain to make a name for himself. The Barcelona-born forward not only grew up in a thriving soccer culture, but also a prominent soccer family.
His father, Jose Mari Bakero, was a midfielder of some repute, playing over 200 games each for both Real Sociedad and FC Barcelona in La Liga during a pro career that ran from 1980 to 1997. He also earned 30 caps for Spain, and represented his country at Euro ’88, as well as the 1990 and 1994 FIFA World Cup.
Instead of following in his father’s footsteps, Jon Bakero decided to strike out on his own. At age 17, he moved to the United States in order to attend school and pursue a degree in communications. During a four-year NCAA career, Bakero was a standout forward, scoring 37 goals and tallying 26 assists in 88 games for Wake Forest University. He also won the MAC Hermann Trophy, awarded to the college player of the year.
MLS teams took notice of Bakero’s brilliant form in the NCAA ranks, and the Chicago Fire traded up in order to select him fifth overall in this year’s college draft back in January. Things didn’t quite work out in Chicago, as he only made four appearances for the Fire totalling just 75 minutes.
Bakero has been granted a second chance to show what he can do in MLS after Toronto FC acquired the 21-year-old Spaniard in a trade with Chicago last week. In exchange for Bakero and $50,000 U.S. in general allocation money, TFC sent midfielder Nicolas Hasler to the Fire.
The young Spanish prospect is eager to prove he belongs in MLS, and to show that he’s not simply relying on his father’s reputation to get by.
“Having the same last name and wearing it on my jersey, it’s an honour. But one of the reasons why I came to the [United States] was to start my own path, and that’s something I’m trying to do here,” Bakero said.
Toronto coach Greg Vanney described Bakero as an intelligent, versatile and technically sound player, and someone who can play as second forward and operate in the space behind the main striker.
“He’s another forward with good size who can hold up the ball, but he can also drift off of the front line and create some things, and he’s a good passer in those spaces,” Vanney explained.
Deployed mostly as a winger during his brief time in Chicago, Bakero said he will play out wide if asked by Vanney, although that’s not his preference.
“I’ve played most of my life as a forward or as a number 10. I find myself more comfortable playing in the middle, but if I have to play wide, that’s something I can also do,” Bakero offered.
Vanney believes Bakero was misused by the Fire, and that’s why he didn’t thrive in Chicago.
“Probably his best position is more of second forward, and in Chicago they don’t really play with two forwards. They play with a striker and wingers, and he’s not an out-and-out attacking midfielder,” Vanney explained.
“He gives us another forward with size who can hold up the ball, but he also can also drift off the front line and create some things, and he’s a good passer in those spaces.”
Things didn’t work out the way Bakero wanted with the Fire after such an illustrious college career, but he has no harsh feelings towards the organization.
“I’m very thankful to them, for the opportunity they gave me, for drafting me. … This has been a learning [experience] for me, and I’m going to build on it, and hopefully it’s going to make me better,” Bakero said.
Bakero has had a couple of training sessions under his belt since arriving in town late last week. He could make his debut for TFC either in Wednesday’s Canadian Club Championship match against the Ottawa Fury, or in Saturday’s MLS home game against the Fire.
The Spaniard might not be the only newcomer at TFC. The influx of allocation money as part of the trade also allows Toronto to make another move during MLS’s summer transfer window.
“Obviously, that’s the goal. We didn’t trade Nico for the sake of trading him,” Vanney stated.
“Part of the move is to clear cap space that we would need to be able to bring somebody else in. … It’s a multi-faceted move, and we’ll see how quickly we’re able to get this done. There are a lot of discussions underway.”