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Who is Jon Bakero?

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A puzzling acquisition may have some merit...

MLS: MLS Super Draft Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

On July 20, one of Toronto FC’s 2018 season fan favourites, Nicolas Hasler, was traded to Chicago Fire for $50,000 in General Allocation money, and 21-year-old forward Jon Bakero. This was certainly a controversial trade as Hasler was a well-liked player in Toronto, and acquiring Jon Bakero was fairly confusing as the TFC front office’s first dive into the trade window was to bring in a backup forward — when defensive depth has clearly been the main problem this season. As controversial as this trade may have been amongst TFC supporters, who is Jon Bakero, and how could he fit into the first team?

For some basic information, Bakero was born in Sitges, Spain in 1996, and is currently 21 years old. His last name might strike a chord with some people as his father, José Mari Bakero was an FC Barcelona attacking midfielder, who made 260 appearances for the Blaugrana. On the other hand, Jon Bakero has taken a different step into professional football by moving to the U.S. to go through the college system, as opposed to working his way up through the traditional academy system in Spain.

Bakero’s first adventure into American soccer was playing in the NCAA for Wake Forest Demon Deacons. He performed extremely well for them as he scored 37 goals in 88 appearances, averaging 0.42 goals per game — which is quite good for an NCAA striker. He also had a bit of a passing touch — he totaled 26 career assists in at Wake Forest. This averages to 0.29 assists per game, which isn’t as good as his goal tally, but displays another aspect to his game that could be quite useful. To put into perspective, in Sebastian Giovinco’s time in MLS, he has averaged 0.6 goals per game, and 0.47 assists per game. Jon Bakero didn’t do as well in NCAA as Giovinco has done in MLS (which let’s be honest, is a much higher level and very hard to reach), but he still has many more years to develop, and could prove to be quite useful in the TFC’s depth chart in the striker position. In between some of his years at Wake Forest while the NCAA season was over, Bakero played in the PDL for the likes of FC Tucson, and Carolina Dynamo, scoring only one goal in 8 games with FC Tucson, and 5 goals in 7 games for the Carolina Dynamo.

During Bakero’s time in the state of North Carolina, he won the ACC Men’s Soccer tournament twice (2016 and 2017) with his team, and individually he most notably won the Hermann Trophy — which is given to the recognize the best college soccer player, presented by the Missouri Athletic Club. The most notable players who have won the Hermann Trophy are Alexi Lalas, Brad Friedel, Darlington Nagbe, and Jordan Morris. This puts Jon Bakero in a pool of some great American players — which shows just how good of a prospect he may be for TFC.

MLS: MLS Super Draft Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The next big step in Bakero’s career was his move to the Chicago Fire. He was drafted 5th overall in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, making him one of the most hyped draft picks. The Fire didn’t really rate him too much after he signed for them, as he played only 4 games — starting only one game while playing in Bridgeview. This totalled to only 75 minutes over the course of his 2018 season for the Fire, where Bakero recorded zero goals and assists, only getting one shot off in his whole career there. There is not much more to say about his career for Chicago Fire, and Bakero is probably relieved that he’ll get a chance to revitalize his career in MLS with a move to Toronto.

But how will Bakero fit into a ‘stacked’ offense? Based on some highlights I’ve watched of Bakero playing for Wake Forest, and his offensive statistics, he looks to be a bit of a backup for Sebastian Giovinco. I believe this because he seems to have good ball control and skill moves that he uses when necessary. He doesn’t seem to use a crazy amount of skill moves in dumb areas (like the middle of the pitch), but uses them to get around a player occasionally and to make space in the box. Jon Bakero is not solely a goalscorer, like a Jozy Altidore of the world is, but plays a role in which he gives the ball to other players when they’re in good positions, and takes a shot when he’s in a good position. Bakero is not much of a long shot taker, so we’re not going to see that similarity with him and Giovinco, but likes to take his chances from within the box. Overall he looks like an exciting young talent, and could even pose as an eventual key striker for the Reds if all goes well. But while that’s the dream with every young talented player, it’s not always the end product unfortunately.

MLS: Chicago Fire at FC Dallas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Anyway, if Jon Bakero doesn’t perform well early, make sure you give him his time to settle into the squad, as he’s a young man with a lot of potential and is a bright light for the future at BMO Field. He may take time from other youngsters such as Jordan Hamilton and Ayo Akinola, but he seems like the type of talent who actually validates a bit of time every season as opposed to some youngsters that have signed to TFC’s first team in the past and have not made much of an impact.

As much as this trade is controversial, we should look to one of the best draft picks in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft to prove to all of us, that Toronto FC’s front office has made the right decision after all.