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How has Vancouver Whitecaps new RB Fraser Aird done?

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Coming in to this season there were a lot of question marks around the Vancouver Whitecaps right back position with the departure of Steven Beitashour and the lack of confidence in Jordan Smith and Fraser Aird. While getting off to a shaky start, Fraser Aird has proven himself a capable replacement for Steven Beitashour.

Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

After the 2013 season, international legend YP Lee retired, after patrolling the Vancouver Whitecaps right back position for a couple of seasons. There were subsequent concerns about who could take over that position as there were no obvious replacements. Much to everyone’s surprise, the Whitecaps orchestrated a deal with the San Jose Earthquakes to acquire all-star and Iranian international Steven Beitashour. This was fantastic news as Beita was regarded as one of the best right backs in Major League Soccer.

Flash forward to the 2015 off-season when Beita’s contract expired. In the salary cap MLS it was unclear whether the Vancouver Whitecaps could pay Beita the contract he deserved. While one of the best RB in MLS, it appeared that Beita was a luxury that the team could not afford. As a result, the Whitecaps shipped Beita to Toronto FC. The thought, initially, was that loaned Jordan Smith could fill the void. However, there were question marks around this as a) Smith was simply a loaned player; and b) Smith had not really impressed in 2015, albeit in few opportunities. Among fans there was a belief that the Whitecaps would not enter the 2016 campaign with Smith as the only option (and Tim Parker as cover). It was thought that the Whitecaps would pursue a cheaper, but MLS-experienced, option. However, Carl Robinson had other plans. Or maybe his original plans fell through. Robbo took on another loaned player in Canadian right winger turned right back Fraser Aird. Needless to say the Canadian element did not outweigh the fear of many fans that the RB position was to be played by someone (Smith or Aird) with little evidence of a capability to play it!

After a strong preseason Fraser Aird was the first to have an opportunity to take control of the right back position; it wasn’t pretty. In the opening match of the season, Aird was repeatedly taken advantage of by Montreal’s Piatti. The Impact appeared to have found the Whitecaps weak spot on defense and exploited it. This pattern would continue during the first 10 matches of the season, but we will get to that.

With a poor opening performance by Aird, but probably more to give both an opportunity to fight for the starting position, Jordan Smith was inserted into the lineup for Match 2 against Sporting Kansas City. Jordan Smith subsequently received a red card for a terrible tackle. It was clear that Smith was not the answer, but it was not clear whether Aird was the answer.

To Aird’s credit, he came in to the Sporting KC game to finish it out and looked better. Despite being the focal point of many teams’ attack in the first third of the season, and facing some of the best attacking players in the league, Aird has continued to improve and show that he is capable at right back. Let’s be clear, CAPABLE not good. While it is clear that Aird is not a natural right back, he appears to be learning the position and taking in all the information he is given by his teammates. Each game he looks more comfortable and his speed assists him in recovery when he does get beat. When evaluating Aird fans need to examine him as an offensive RB not a defensive RB. In all honesty, I think Aird makes for a suitable wingback, but that is a story for another day.

Aird is one of, if not the best, crosser on the team. While none of his crosses have led directly to a goal, I believe it is only a matter of time as each time the ball is swung in, it looks dangerous. I was really rooting for Kei Kamara to be picked up by the Whitecaps as I felt Aird’s assist total would benefit greatly from Kamara’s head.

As the Whitecaps continue to leak goals and Toronto FC remain one of the best defensive teams in the league, after being the worst last year, comparisons between Beita and Aird will persist. However, is the fall of the Vancouver’s defense and the rise of Toronto’s simply coincidence? I am not arguing that Aird is better than Beita and certainly some of the Van/Tor difference can be attributed to Beita’s move. What I will argue though is that in a salary cap league the ‘extra’ Beita provides to the Whitecaps over Aird is not worth the additional money. Don’t agree with me? That’s fine. Argue it in the comments. How I will support my argument though is with a comparison.

Using the website Whoscored I compare what Aird and Beita have done this season for their respective clubs. Given the small sample size I also included Beita’s 2015 numbers. This season, both players have appeared in around the same number of minutes and have similar passing completion percentages, long balls, and overall ratings. It should be noted though that Beita’s passing percentage is lower than his career average, which is more around his 2015 numbers (78%). Beita is ahead of Aird in interceptions (3.0 to 2.1) and clearances (2.4 to 1.7), however Aird has more key passes (0.8 to 0.3), tackles (3.3 to 1.8) and crosses (1.2 to 0.3). In fact, Aird is 15th in the league in tackles and crosses. While Aird commits twice as many fouls per game as Beita it is important to acknowledge that teams have been targeting him an enormous amount. However, that same logic can be applied to his higher tackle numbers, so maybe those two stats are a wash. One final stat. Despite being heavily targeted by some of the best attacking players in MLS, Aird has received only 1 yellow card this season. Hopefully that continues as having to rely on Smith at RB in an important game is too scary of a proposition!

Player

Minutes

Key Pass

Pass %

Tackles

Interc.

Fouls

Clear

Cross

LongB

Rating

Aird

848

0.8

73.9

3.3

2.1

1.3

1.7

1.2

1.8

6.98

Beita

809

0.3

73.3

1.8

3.0

0.6

2.4

0.3

1.4

6.92

Beita (2015)

2596

0.4

78.1

1.6

3.4

1.2

2.0

0.3

1.6

6.98

Fraser Aird has not won over everyone yet, but little by little he is slowly convincing people. Best yet, he is a young Canadian and the National Team is desperate for a capable. What are your thoughts?