They don’t all work out as planned. Toronto FC supporters know that as well as anyone, with the volume of new faces that have come through the door over the years. They have had different pedigrees, potential and pay grades. Only a select few have paid off.
Recently, however, that hit rate has been far higher than normal. Everything Toronto FC GM Tim Bezbatchenko had done in the two seasons prior to this one seemed to turn to gold. Be it Victor Vazquez, Chris Mavinga, Nico Hasler, or even bringing Raheem Edwards up from Toronto FC II.
Which is why the fact that Bezbatchenko’s biggest acquisition of the 2018 offseason, Ager Aketxe, not working out stands out so much. While it also comes as part of an overall disappointing season, it’s the first time in a while a Toronto FC acquisition hasn’t gone to plan.
There are a number of factors as to why Aketxe didn’t live up to expectations. But as the Spaniard departs on loan to Cádiz this week, perhaps the biggest reason why things didn’t work out is that he just wasn’t a good fit in Greg Vanney’s side.
The 24-year-old arrived in Toronto from Athletic Bilbao, and instantly became one of the club’s most expensive players, something many of us only learned later as a result of Major League Soccer’s sporadic salary releases. His roughly $1.3 million put him squarely in the star player bracket, and it seems like he felt the responsibility to play like one.
“He wanted to show more than people expected,” Victor Vazquez told the media earlier in the season of Aketxe’s early attitude . “He was trying to kick from everywhere, to score goals and to keep the ball on his foot for too long. He was trying to show himself.”
That need to prove himself early makes a lot of sense for more reasons than just his large salary. Toronto FC were in the hunt for a continental competition, and seeing as Aketxe was new and unproven he wasn’t getting nearly the minutes that he would have expected.
So he tried a little too hard to stand out, which doesn’t really work on a Toronto FC team that already has a lot of star players. Guys like Michael Bradley, Vazquez, Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore command a lot of the ball, and the club works best when it is quickly moving the ball from one of them to the others. When Aketxe was on the field, only Bradley had a higher percentage of the ball per American Soccer Analysis.
Aketxe was never really effective enough when he didn’t have the ball, and struggled to quickly transition it up field. It comes as no surprise, then, that his best games were the ones where key Toronto players were missing.
Be it his strong outing in Colorado while the rest of the team was occupied with CCL, or the pair of games against Philadelphia and Seattle when Bradley was playing centreback. When Aketxe was able to have more touches, and more influence over the game, he showed his talent.
One then has to look at exactly what Aketxe’s talents entail. Looking at his time with Spain, the midfielder’s best moments came when he was creating chances from set pieces, and barring that, long balls in to the box.
The problem with this skill set was the fact that Toronto already has some of the best dead ball players in the league in Sebastian Giovinco and Victor Vazquez. On top of this, with Jozy Altidore out of the lineup for most of his matches, Aketxe never really had much to work with further down field.
While all of his struggles played out, other Toronto FC midfielders thrived. Vazquez and Bradley are staples in the team whenever they are healthy. Jonathan Osorio and Jay Chapman, meanwhile, are having the best seasons of their careers, while Marky Delgado is crucial to the team’s structure.
This isn’t to say that Aketxe couldn’t have done a lot more with the opportunities with which he was presented. He gave coach Greg Vanney little reason to start him over any of these aforementioned players. But the deck was quickly stacked against him.
Finally, the questions of Aketxe’s fit extend to the dressing room as well. Reports from Joshua Kloke of The Athletic suggest that he wasn’t exactly integrating very well into the dressing room. Language was an obvious barrier, but it doesn’t really seem to be as a big of an issue for guys like Auro who have quickly integrated into the team socially as well.
At the end of the day, for multiple reasons, things clearly weren’t working out between Toronto FC and Aketxe. So, to some degree, Bezbatchenko deserves credit for seeing that and addressing the issue.
Too many general managers would let pride get in the way after investing so much in a player, only to see it not work. Instead, just like he did with Ahmed Kantari, Bezbatchenko moved quickly to right his wrong.
At the moment Aketxe’s move is only a loan. So, perhaps, he could be back with the reds next year when things are more settled, and he has a better chance of breaking into and staying in the team. But for now, despite all the talent that he possessed, Aketxe wasn’t a good fit with Toronto FC.