It seems that Alan Koch’s connections around Canadian soccer are paying off for FC Edmonton.
Both of the club’s CPL-U SPORTS Draft picks — Thomas Gardner and Jackson Farmer — were familiar with FCE’s new coach from the Vancouver Whitecaps, and it seems that same connection was key in securing the services of Fraser Aird.
The 26-year-old winger made his way to the Eddies in December, after first returning to Canada last season to play for Valour FC. The unexpected move came fairly early in Edmonton’s rebuild process, but it immediately gave the defending Wooden Spoon holders something to cheer about over the holidays.
“When I got the chance to speak to Alan on the phone everything just kind of felt right,” Aird told CanPL.ca of the move. “We were on the same page with a lot of things, with me and what I could bring to the team, what the team could bring to my game, and just some of his philosophies that we spoke about… Everything just kind of fell into place.”
Aird already knew Koch well from his brief loan spell in Vancouver from Rangers FC, back in 2016. Since going their separate ways — Aird back to Scotland and Koch to FC Cincinnati — the two have kept in touch, and it seems like a footballing reunion has always been a possibility, somehow.
After playing his whole career in Scotland (minus that Whitecaps interlude), Aird returned to Canada last year for a litany of reasons — not least of which was to play more regular football (which the COVID-19 pandemic ultimately scuppered last year). Still, Aird is glad he made the leap back to Canada, regardless of the unexpectedly inactive 2020.
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“I think it was always on the cards,” he said. “I mean, I moved to Scotland when I was 15, I was there for almost 10 years and I kind of wanted a change. I wanted to be closer to my family.
“There was no better thing coming back to Canada; when I was growing up there was obviously no league, and the fact that they’re building this league, being part of it especially in the second year, I thought it would’ve been a great opportunity for me.”
Aird’s signing with Valour was big news last year; with 74 career appearances in Scotland’s second tier, after helping the Glasgow side earn promotion twice, he’s accomplished a lot in his career so far.
Now, the Canadian international is just anxious to play games. His choice to come back to Canada was, partly, based on the CPL’s better exposure to the national team setup. Aird, who has eight caps for Les Rouges, hasn’t been called up since John Herdman took over as head coach.
“I said it when I first came back here last year, when I signed for Valour; being closer to the national team manager’s always good,” Aird said. “When I was in Scotland before, I don’t know how much he actually got to see. I’ve kind of been out of the loop for the past couple of years since the new manager’s come in. He also likes to track the (CPL) games, as you can see with the boys being called in.
“It’s proven that if the boys are doing well he’s willing to give the boys a chance, bring them into camp and see what they’re like. It’s always different watching games, you can be doing really well for your team but until you actually get into that environment with a coach and he gets to see you train day in, day out, I think it’s totally different.”
Objective number one, though, is getting back on the pitch in Edmonton. Aird played six out of Valour’s seven games in 2020, scoring once for the much-improved Winnipeg side, but at this stage in his career, more regular football is critical — as it is for all CPLers whose truncated 2020 campaigns didn’t quite offer all the benefits of a full-length season.
Stepping into the FCE squad, Aird sees a club with potential over a full season, despite their last-place finish at The Island Games.
“I think it’s hard to judge anyone on those games with having no pre-season, working out over Zoom calls, I think it was very tough,” he said.
“There’s a lot of boys coming back that probably want to prove themselves for Edmonton and for themselves. Football’s a game where you get judged on your last game, and last year they didn’t do as good as they wanted to I’m sure, but I can also look at the Valour perspective, we didn’t make the final four. So we could say that with the squad that we had, we failed too. I think we’re all in that boat, we all want to have a proper season, we all want to get back to playing.”
Until the 2021 CPL season begins, though, Aird is content to continue watching his beloved Rangers march toward the Scottish Premiership title.
“There’s no happier man on the planet right now than me,” he said. “It’s not finished yet, they still need to go and do the business, but as soon as they clinch that title I’ll be a very happy man that’s for sure.”