With Michael Bradley injured for an expected four months, it presents a chance to a young Canadian to make his mark on MLS, this time being Toronto FC’s homegrown Liam Fraser.
Well, that was not the plan.
Toronto FC opened preseason this week, only to find out that captain Michael Bradley was still nursing an injury which he had picked up in the MLS Cup final back in November. The skipper’s absence now leaves a gaping void in the middle of the park for the red’s, forcing manager Greg Vanney to look down his bench for a possible replacement.
Enter Liam Fraser. The Canadian has been waiting for his first true chance at cracking a regular spot in the lineup, and this could very well be it. Through 16 starts in the last two years, the 21-year-old has shown that he is more than capable of running a midfield in MLS.
It was only last October that Fraser was last pondered for the middle of the park. Bradley was out of form, and Fraser was a talented Canadian sitting on the bench. He was fairly candid at the time, but it was clear that he felt that he was ready to contribute on a regular basis.
Many around the Canadian soccer community believe that Fraser is ready to go in Toronto’s midfield. Toronto’s target man, American forward Jozy Altidore spoke to the media once he reported to camp and gave his thoughts on the possible introduction of Fraser.
“I think Liam [Fraser]’s ready He comes in every day ready to work. I watched him with Canada (recently), I thought he was the best player on the field for Canada. It’s a great moment for him and I think he’ll embrace it with both hands.”
Those games which Altidore speaks of for Canada came in the national team’s last camp in which Fraser started in each of three games, including getting himself a great scoring chance against Iceland in the final outing. Not only was he a force to be reckoned with in an open play, but he delivered the ball to near perfection from the corner each time he was called upon.
While Bradley has not traditionally been the set-piece maestro for Toronto, but Fraser’s insertion could add a threat that was previously not presented. The set-piece delivery is one of the important factors, but not the tipping point. Toronto scored 11 of their goals off of set pieces last season, good for sixth-best in the league. If they could boost that number, however, it could get them a couple more points.
One of the more important things that Fraser brings is a more reliable passer in the middle of the pitch. Looking at his stats from WhoScored, the Canadian international had only one game where he passed under 80%. Meanwhile, when we take a look at Bradley, his passing percentage is consistently a few percentage points lower than Fraser. It’s not a tipping point, but with the American not available for selection, having Fraser’s passing ability could be a welcome addition.
At 21, it is the right time for Fraser to get some regular playing time, but there could be some more experienced players who could draw in. There’s Marky Delgado, as well as the always steady presence on Canadian international Jonathan Osorio. However, it’s entirely possible that those two could find their way into the lineup alongside Fraser.
With Bradley out for four months after receiving surgery, it presents a chance for the young Canadian, his first real shot at first-team regularity. All that being said, history has to be taken with a grain of salt and Fraser will have to prove that he is worthy through the next few weeks of Toronto’s pre-season. The first regular-season game is on February 29th, against a San Jose Earthquakes which Fraser played against last season.
Cover Photo: Courtesy of Canada Soccer/Liza Rozales