TORONTO – Just when one presumes Toronto FC could not possibly get more dangerous, they add another piece to the fold.
The 24-year old attacking midfielder, developed in the famed Athletic Bilbao system, recently spent time on loan with Cadiz CF.
“We are excited and pleased that we're able to get Ager here,” said TFC head coach Greg Vanney. “I spoke to him on the phone when we were in Los Angeles. His desires in the game, how he saw it, the things that intrigued him, mirrored what we do here at TFC.”
It was “not only his qualities as a player” that caught Vanney's eye, but that “the conversation felt right.”
“This was a key target for us this offseason,” added Vanney. “We are over the moon to add him into our group as we look to push forward in Champions League and the league starts.”
Toronto began to keep tabs on Aketxe in the summer of 2016, but it wasn't until this fall, with his contract about to enter its final six months, that a move began to look possible.
“We want to find younger players, that are coming into prime, that are looking to play prominent roles,” said general manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “The new Targeted Allocation Money opens a whole new category of player, like Ager, who is poised to do great things and can take us to the next level.”
Toronto were quick to express their interest as the transfer market opened.
“There was a variety of clubs interested,” said Aketxe through a translator. “But TFC really showed a keen interest in bringing [me] over. [I] wanted to be at a club where [I am] wanted, can show [my] qualities and do what [I] can for the club. The interest that TFC put in [me] was intriguing. [I'm] super excited to be here.”
According to Vanney, Aketxe “adds a unique skill set.”
“The ability to see the pass, to work on both sides of the ball,” detailed Vanney of the left-footer, comparing him to the right-footed Victor Vazquez. “[Lefties] see the field in a different way. This gives us a nice balance. [And] another goal-scoring threat from the midfield, something we've wanted to add to our group.”
“Coming from Bilbao, his desire to and understanding the importance of defending,” noted Vanney. “We want to be a team that has the ball: He understands and appreciates that defending is how you get the ball back.”
The increasing visibility of MLS helped lure Aketxe.
“In Spain, more and more, you can see MLS,” said Aketxe. “It's intriguing.”
But so too did a phone conversation or two with other Spaniards who have crossed the ocean to ply their trade, including new teammate Vazquez.
“[We] talked a few times,” explained Aketxe. “Victor has really helped, telling [me] all the great things that Toronto has to offer. [That] helped to make the decision. Spoke to Tim [Bezbatchenko], seeing the plan the team had moving forward, also intrigued [me] very much.”
The 31-year old Vazquez took MLS by storm last season, factoring in as the missing piece that led Toronto FC to an MLS Cup victory. Aketxe looks to follow in those footsteps, with Vazquez as his guide.
The two countrymen were each familiar with the other's career, but were not personally acquainted. Vazquez relayed the gist of their conversations: “The normal things around the club, the city; that we have an amazing team.”
“He saw last year, we won everything,” continued Vazquez. “He's going to bring us a lot of football. We are happy to have him; he's happy to come here.”
Vazquez wants to see Toronto make the most of Aketxe’s talents.
“He's a really good football player. He already showed it today in training. I hope for him it's going to be a great season. He can be the Newcomer of the Year, he has these skills.”