New Whitecap Fraser Aird's two-way play turns some heads

 

Former Rangers player hopes he’ll be a starting lineup fullback when season starts

 
 
 
 
Vancouver Whitecaps defender Fraser Aird during a team training session held at UBC. (Photo by Bob Frid, Vancouver Whitecaps)
 
 

Vancouver Whitecaps defender Fraser Aird during a team training session held at UBC. (Photo by Bob Frid, Vancouver Whitecaps)

Photograph by: Bob Frid, Bob Frid

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PORTLAND, Ore. — With his boyish face, short brown hair and pasty white skin, Fraser Aird seems like an outlier among the rainbow of colours on the Vancouver Whitecaps.

The dark- and olive-skinned who dominate the group are the most visible indicator of the cultural diversity of a club whose players come from places such as Gambia, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, Japan and Cuba.

But even New Jersey-born centre back Tim Parker has that ginger hair thing going and the always stylish Canadian Russell Teibert, whose hairdos have ranged from shaved sides to a man-bun, has dyed his curly mop a golden blond for training camp.

Aird was born and grew up in Scarborough, Ont., before signing at age 16 with the storied Scottish club Rangers, fulfilling a dream for himself and his Rangers-obsessed dad and grandfather.

The Caps acquired the now 21-year-old on loan this winter to compete with mid-2015 addition Jordan Smith, a Costa Rican, at the right-back spot left open when Stephen Beitashour was shipped to Toronto FC in the off-season for salary cap reasons.

It was assumed the 6-1 Smith might have the edge given his seven games of Major League Soccer experience and the fact right back is his natural position. But the 5-9, 160-pound Aird, a converted wide midfielder, has been a revelation so far.

Not only does he love to bomb forward and whip in crosses — two of which have led to own goals in the pre-season — but he’s been competent enough defensively. He’s aggressively determined, showing in Sunday’s pre-season game against the Chicago Fire that he will scrap and fight for every inch and is capable of winning balls off bigger opponents.

“(Defence is) the one thing I need to improve on, but I don’t think I’m that far off,” says the confident, well-spoken Aird, who has a touch of a Scottish accent. “I’m always learning and trying to get better and the more games I get under my belt the more I’m going to improve the defending aspect of my game.

“The way football is going now, though, teams want two fullbacks who can get forward, be more of attacking players who get balls into the box, but then have the speed and the intelligence to get back into defensive shape when they need to.”

The dilemma for Caps head coach Carl Robinson, who wants more goals this season from a club that tallied just 45 times in 34 games in 2015, is how much risk does he want to take? Last season, with the fullback spots manned most of the time by Beitashour and veteran Jordan Harvey, who isn’t a slouch getting forward, the Caps conceded just 36 goals, tying for the fewest in MLS.

By Aird getting the start Sunday, which puts him in line to start again Saturday in the pre-season finale, it looks like Robinson is leaning toward having the youngster play in the regular-season opener March 6 at BC Place Stadium against Montreal.

Aird is clearly relishing that opportunity, one helped immeasurably by playing alongside powerful centre back Kendall Waston.

“He’s a great guy to go to war with, he’s been very welcoming since I got here,” says Aird. “Hopefully this team can continue to have great success and be even better than last year.”

Aird made his first-team debut with the Rangers in 2012 and was the club’s young player of the year in 2013. But with a new manager, Mark Warburton, in charge, Aird spent much of the early part of the current Scottish Championship season on the bench.

When the Caps came calling and former Vancouver striker Kenny Miller — back for another stint with Rangers — talked up the opportunity under a “fantastic” coaching staff, Aird thought it was great chance to further his career.

Aird, who grew up idolizing Frank Lampard and cheering for Chelsea when he wasn’t supporting Rangers, says Robinson has been a delight to train under. He always admired the Welshman’s gritty style when he played for Toronto FC and Aird was a fan up in the stands.

“I think it’s just about being myself,” Aird says when asked what he needs to do to snatch the starting fullback spot. “About doing what I know I can do best, that’s getting up and down the line and attacking when I need to.

“Robbo wouldn’t have brought me in here if he didn’t think I was the kind of player he wants. It’s up to me now. To keep the jersey I just need to keep performing, keep training hard and put my foot to the gas when I need to.”

gkingston@postmedia.com

 
 
 
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Vancouver Whitecaps defender Fraser Aird during a team training session held at UBC. (Photo by Bob Frid, Vancouver Whitecaps)
 

Vancouver Whitecaps defender Fraser Aird during a team training session held at UBC. (Photo by Bob Frid, Vancouver Whitecaps)

Photograph by: Bob Frid, Bob Frid

 
Vancouver Whitecaps defender Fraser Aird during a team training session held at UBC. (Photo by Bob Frid, Vancouver Whitecaps)
Vancouver Whitecaps defender Fraser Aird during a team training session held at UBC. (Photo by Bob Frid, Vancouver Whitecaps)
 
 
 
 
 
 
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