Aketxe COL CCL

Debutant Ager Aketxe impresses on Champions League stage

TORONTO – As the club sealed progression to the quarterfinals of the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League on Tuesday night with a 0-0 draw against the Colorado Rapids at BMO Field, a glimpse was had at the latest addition: Ager Aketxe.

The versatile midfielder, who was announced last Friday, came on in the 73rd minute for Marky Delgado, his debut for TFC.

“Very good,” assessed Greg Vanney of the cameo. “You could tell he is very comfortable on the ball, has a sense of how many touches to play,  can find good areas on the field, knows where his teammates are.”

“He had a couple actions that show his vision to find players that were trying to break lines, sliding balls behind the back-line: one to Seba [Giovinco] – they called him offside, and one later to Jozy [Altidore] that nearly put him in behind,” detailed Vanney. “He's well-educated. He understands. Without having played a lot with our team, he goes on to the field, fulfills a role very nicely and looked very comfortable.”

On the pitch for mere seconds, his burgeoning relationship with Victor Vazquez was immediately clear, the two combining instinctively to find Jonathan Osorio down the left, who whipped a ball into the area. The service was a little beyond the reach of Altidore, but the danger crafted was plain to see.

“He fit in seamlessly,” added Vanney. “I was hoping his one shot was going to find its way, it got a little bit deflected. It was a good debut for him.”

His strike from some 35 yards in the 80th minute strayed wide, but that additional threat from range is yet another tool in the shed for TFC.

Said Alex Bono: “He's talented. Real eye for the ball. Smart player. I'm really happy to have him on our team.”

What made Aketxe such an intriguing addition was outlined by Vanney during his introduction last week.

“A different profile from the guys we have,” said Vanney. “Slightly more attacking, more similar to Vazquez. Unique in that he is left-footed, his final product is proven, something we wanted to add to midfield.”

As with last season, having options in the middle of the park delights the TFC head coach.

“Different ways we could use him, depending on how we want to play,” explained Vanney. “He's capable of playing off the right-wing, drop him deeper and play as an 8, he can play in the diamond, as a winger, as a 10. A lot of versatility in his game. Depends on how we want to set up on a given day.”

“We like our group of midfielders,” continued Vanney. “With 40-plus games this year, [we'll] be able to get guys in and out, make sure we're strong coming down the stretch, but also at the beginning. We're playing for different trophies along the way, the first one being Champions League.”

Vazquez, who has taken his countryman under his wing in these early days, forecast: “We are going to have more vision on the pitch.”

“He's a player like me: we are Spanish, understand football in the same way. He's going to have a good impact on our team,” continued Vazquez. “A bit faster with the ball sometimes; he can dribble. Also his left-foot is amazing, everybody has seen the free-kicks he scored in Spain.”

The 24-year old Aketze also brings some fresh legs to the middle of the park, a tidy balance to a side looking to defend each and every one of their titles in 2018.

“If you are going to consistently contend, you have to have depth, both in experience and younger players who are showing a bright future, are hungry, making their way,” said Vanney. “We did a bit of both with Ager. He's got some experience, but a little bit younger when it comes to age.”

And as Vazquez explained, Aketxe's Basque heritage should fit in nicely with the ethos of Toronto.

“They are really physical, work hard always. This is the main thing with players from the north of Spain,” noted Vazquez. “Aketxe is a bit like Seba: smaller, shifty, faster. [The Basque] are really good workers, have straight character. [Ager] is really serious when he's working.”

“He's going to enjoy [Toronto and MLS] a lot,” concluded Vazqeuz. “We're going to enjoy him a lot.”