TORONTO – The rookie season is always a special one.
Selected fifth overall in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, though full of twists, turns, and a midseason trade to Toronto FC, for Jon Bakero the year's end finds him in a good place.
“I'm really happy [in Toronto]; thankful for the opportunity they gave me to come here, to a great club,” said Bakero ahead of the match against Atlanta United. “It's been a great fit for me. I've really enjoyed my teammates; the coaches have helped me a lot.”
Acquired from the Chicago Fire on July 20 in a trade for Nicolas Hasler, the now 22-year-old Bakero made three appearances for TFC, debuting off the bench against NYCFC ahead of starts against the Portland Timbers and D.C. United.
He also made five appearances for TFC II in USL play, scoring a screamer of a goal against Ottawa Fury FC at Lamport Stadium on September 6.
“It's a learning experience, you have to learn from everything,” said Bakero of his rookie campaign. “I'm really thankful [to] the Fire for drafting me, thankful to Toronto for giving me this opportunity.”
Having bounced between MLS and USL – he made four additional appearances for the Fire and a handful for their USL affiliate, Tulsa Roughnecks FC – it was not quite as he'd imagined it.
“Not the year I would have liked,” admitted Bakero. “I would have wanted to be more on the field, help the team, but it motivates me to keep working, keep growing as a player.”
Though he never let that disappointment alter his mindset heading into each and every match.
“You approach the games equally,” explained Bakero. “Whenever you wear that jersey, you have to give everything you have. That's what I try to do and give the team the best opportunity to win.”
In his months in Toronto, Greg Vanney has seen improvements in the young professional.
“I like him,” began Vanney. “He's getting more and more aware of our environment and his relationships on the field. His speed of play is increasing. He's not a guy who is going to be sprinting all over the field. He's a cerebral player, who understands where he needs to be, both from a defensive perspective and attacking perspective; understands where his teammates are. In training, he continues to look sharper and better.”
Just how he fits into the XI is a little tricky, with the likes of Victor Vazquez, Sebastian Giovinco, and Jonathan Osorio ahead of him in his optimal roles.
“What is challenging for Jon is he probably plays a position similar to Victor, similar to Seba if he's a second forward, to what Oso does at times,” explained Vanney. “I don't think he's an out-and-out number nine. He plays underneath the nine, whether that is a striker or attacking midfielder-type.”
Born outside of Barcelona in a town called Sitges and son of a footballer – his father Jose Mari Bakero played for Real Sociedad and Barcelona, as well as the Spanish national team – it is his understanding that catches the coach's eye.
“I like the way he thinks about the game,” said Vanney. “He's got a great education for it – not surprising [given] where he comes from. It's getting him to meet the speed of what the team is trying to do, the level of the league, and continue to be effective.”
“He had a solid game against D.C.,” added Vanney. “What he needs to do is turn that solid game into ways to be dangerous, whether that be [himself] or setting up other guys. We keep seeing flashes of that through training, which is interesting. He's a player with a nice future in front of him.”
And fittingly, it is Vazquez who has most helped in Bakero's acclimation to TFC.
“All the teammates have been really nice, but obviously Victor, being Spanish, has been a great support,” said Bakero. “He's such a great player; [one] that I grew up watching. It's a pleasure to be around him and learn from him.”
Year One in the books, Bakero, who knows the work has just begun, has no big offseason plans. Time for a pause, a momentary rest, before preparing to do it all again in 2019.
“Probably just go back home,” said Bakero. “I've been in North America since January 2, so I want to go home, take a deep breath, and get ready for next season.”