Fraser Bradley Preseason

Homegrown midfielder Liam Fraser preparing for his shot with Toronto FC

TORONTO – With much of the first team intact after a treble-winning season, Toronto FC set about restocking for the 2018 season with some valuable youth signings.

Ayo Akinola, 18, signed on December 18 – more on him shortly – while Liam Fraser, 19, inked a first team contract on January 19 days before preseason began in Los Angeles earlier this week.

“To be from Toronto, to play for your hometown is something I've always dreamed of,” said Fraser in front of the media for the first time at the BMO Training Ground. “It's massive for me and my family, and a true testament to everything this club is looking to do: put youth through to the first team. I'm really excited; can't wait to get started.”

Long-rumoured to be the next signing out of the academy, Fraser is a defensive midfielder who comes into MLS with 52 USL matches under his belt.

“He has a great work rate and competitive burn to be a great player,” said Greg Vanney. “He works as hard as anyone on his game; he's proven his confidence and competence, both as a defensive midfielder and as a guy.”

“Part of that transition [from youth to professional] is being sure of what you do and who you are,” continued Vanney. “Liam has done a nice job of that. He's present physically on the field, not afraid of a challenge or a tackle, he can win balls. He is very clever about how he opens up space and provides support to the back-line; his range of passing is as good as most in our league and he's still a young and developing player. We're excited about his addition on a number of levels.”

Fraser was part of the group in Los Angeles for preseason last year and joined first team training on occasion throughout the year, an experience that helped further his game. He is looking forward to being a permanent part of that group this season.

And while signing for the first team was a goal of his, Fraser sees it as merely a 'stepping stone.'

“I'm not fixated on just signing,” said Fraser. “I want to get minutes, I want to play. And help the team go back-to-back.”

As understudy to Michael Bradley and Benoit Cheyrou, Fraser has caught the eye of both.

“He's very gifted, technically very good, plays a very good ball; runs the game as well,” said the recently retired Cheyrou, who will remain with the club as an academy coach. “He has to find his path to show to everybody that he has a right to play in this team. It's going to be tough, but I'm sure he's going to work hard to do that.”

Said Bradley: “Liam has qualities that are unique for guys that play in that spot, especially of his age.”

“I've gotten to know him over last few years; watched him a good amount. His ability to play certain types of passes, to have real variety in what he sees and how he brings different people into the game, is good,” continued Bradley. “You see some young, deep midfielders and they never play forward, everything is backwards, side-to-side. Those can be important passes as well, giving the team rhythm, flow, and pause, but your ability in that spot to also play passes forward, to bring people into the game, to get important attacking players on the ball, can be challenging. Liam has good starting points in those ways.”

“For him, the challenge will be to try to take everything he can do at a youth level, at the USL level, and make sure it start to consistently translate at this level,” added Bradley. “Knowing him, he's very excited. A great part about the structure of this club, between first team and TFC II, there will be opportunities for games and good training. It'll be a good year for him. It was important that he took this next step now, understanding everything that that is about.”

Already having studied under the veterans has taught Fraser much.

“In the positional sense: knowing where to be, staying calm on the ball, not losing the ball because the position we're in we're trying to keep the ball for everyone and get people the ball that are going to score the goals and set up the attacks. Giving the ball at time they need and the place they need,” recounted Fraser. “More the technical and tactical aspects than anything.”

The 16th academy player to sign for Toronto FC, Fraser has spent the last four-and-a-half years in the club's system. He signed with TFC II from the academy in February 2016, captained the TFC III side at the Viareggio tournament last spring and has represented Canada internationally at various youth levels.

And though he knows Bradley will eat up the majority of minutes in their shared position, Fraser is eager to chip in: “Any way I can help, whether it be coming in, settling things down, breaking up plays... I'm here for the team.”

The opportunity to learn from one of the best is something Fraser relishes.

“To have the best midfielder in all of MLS take me under his wing, show me the ropes throughout the team, the position, the league, is something I really look forward to,” said Fraser. “I can't take that for granted; I won't.”