Toronto FC midfielder Liam Fraser has every reason to be down in the dumps.
Sure, there’s the whole COVID 19 thing — not being able to train with his TFC teammates, not playing in any MLS and Canadian national team games, being locked inside for much of the day … the usual pandemic despondency.
But Fraser can live with all that. The 22-year-old understands that many people are worse off than he his. He is grateful for what he has. However, there is one aspect of not playing this season that has been a double kick in the gut for the young soccer standout.
When the 2020 MLS season was set to begin (TFC played two games before the MLS schedule was suspended) it was generally assumed that Fraser would get a ton of playing time with captain Michael Bradley out of action.
Bradley, the veteran TFC starting central midfielder, underwent surgery on Jan. 21 to fix loose cartilage fragments in his right ankle joint — an injury suffered in the 2019 MLS Cup final. Bradley was expected to be out until June, meaning that Fraser — who has long awaited the chance to play regular minutes — would likely step in as Bradley’s main replacement, giving the young midfielder a real opportunity to prove to head coach Greg Vanney and his staff that he is ready to play every day and can shine at the MLS level.
But with the MLS season now suspended and no new starting date in sight, Bradley will almost certainly be ready to play when the season does begin and Fraser’s chance for big minutes and the opportunity to prove himself over an extended period of time will largely be lost. Sure, he’ll get into games. Last season, Fraser started nine matches and played 810 minutes — the most so far in his brief TFC career — and at times played well.
But this is his third season with the first team and his experience through two pro seasons has been limited to just 23 appearances across all competitions. When Bradley returns, it will once again be tough to get regular minutes.
“Listen, it’s one of those things you can’t control,” Fraser told the Toronto Sun in a phone interview on Sunday. “But, yeah, I was expecting that too, to have that opportunity. It was a once in a lifetime thing for this to happen.
“(But) I’m not going to dwell on that too much, because you have no say. So I’m just going to mentally and physically prepare myself for once we get going again. I’ll push again, and make another best case to put myself in that starting lineup and give myself the best opportunity to play games and prove to myself and prove to all the eyes watching that I can play there and I deserve an opportunity.”
Though he is only 22, Fraser admitted he is getting anxious for the chance to play regular minutes and show everyone that he is capable of being a solid pro at the MLS level. But he also understands that he has to patient, though that isn’t easy when you’re not playing a lot.
“The age I am right now, it’s such a massive and such a pivotal time in my development,” Fraser said. “And in my mind, it’s the time that a footballer needs the most minutes in order to develop to his highest level.”
On the upside, in the last year Fraser has earned the trust of Canadian national team coach John Herdman, becoming a regular on the talented national team.
There was talk in the off-season that the TFC front office might loan Fraser out to a European side in order to get the young midfielder more playing time. Where that stands now is uncertain. All Fraser can do is continue to work hard and be ready to play when the chances come.
“If it takes me longer and it takes me a different way — a different time period — then I’m okay with that,” he said. “I know personally that I’ll get there.”
To his credit, Fraser, who recently signed with IMAGE Creative + Lifestyle Management, hasn’t been sitting around his pad during the COVID-19 lock down stewing. When not training on his stationary bike or working out in a park near his parent’s home, Fraser has been keeping himself busy. He has made a point on Instagram of calling attention to a number of small businesses in the downtown area that are still up and running and could use a boost — coffee shops, restaurants, clothing stores. Places such as Latre art + style, Sam James Coffee Bar, Tandem Coffee, Reigning Champ clothing, Nodo Italian restaurants and Lost & Found clothing.
“These are places that I know that, without continuous business, they’re not going to survive,” said Fraser, who loves nothing better during his off-time than wandering downtown Toronto exploring new spots (pre-pandemic).
Fraser is also taking courses on line from Ryerson University, with an eye on having a degree in place once his playing days are over. He recently completed a course in micro-economics and is preparing to start his next course, in business law, next week. It’s all about keeping the body and mind in shape and ready to go. And overcoming obstacles that are thrown in one’s way.