FRISCO, Texas – FC Dallas added a nice blend of experience and flexibility to its midfield with the signings of Spaniard Asier Illarramendi and Canadian Liam Fraser late in the summer transfer window.
Illarramendi, a former Spanish international, is undoubtedly the headline-grabber but the versatile Fraser represents a clever addition as well. Still, we’ll start with the UEFA Champions League winner, Illarramendi.
“Illarra” joins Dallas after 13 seasons in Spain’s top division, 10 with his local club Real Sociedad and two with Real Madrid, where he won the 2014 Champions League. Illaramendi played nearly 300 times in La Liga and earned three caps for Spain. With that resumé, the 33-year-old is certainly in the conversation for FCD’s most decorated signing ever.
Signed as a free agent, Illarramendi’s contract runs through the end of this season with an option for 2024—an excellent, low-risk pickup.
“I played all of my career in the Spanish league and I wanted to try another project, a new experience,” said Illarramendi, who’s currently in Spain sorting out his work Visa. “As soon as I heard about Dallas' interest, I didn't think twice about it. It’s a good opportunity for both myself and my wife.
“I am already wanting to train, to compete and to win the matches. That's what we're here for, to compete well and to try to help the club as much as possible I want to help the club grow and have a good year as well. There are few games left, let's hope we work well and achieve the club's objectives.”
Stylistically, you’d expect Illarramendi to fit in smoothly. Head coach Nico Estévez – who also learned the game in Spain – uses a possession-oriented style that requires midfielders who are capable of playing accurate passes in high-risk situations; something his new charge is accustomed to.
“Asier (Illarramendi) brings experience, composure and calmness in moments that we need it. His quality and range of passing will help lead the team from midfield,” Estévez said. “With Asier, we know his profile will fit exactly with the way we see the game.”
Illarramendi could be competing for a starting spot with fellow new signing Liam Fraser.
A Canadian international, Fraser joins Dallas from Belgium’s second division after spending the first part of his career with Toronto FC and the Columbus Crew. And that’s partly why he’s such a savvy signing by FCD: Fraser, who’s still just 25, has MLS, European and international experience. Plus, since he was a Toronto FC Homegrown, Fraser counts as a domestic player and won’t require the club to use an international slot.
On the field, Fraser operates primarily as a defensive midfielder but can also deputize at center back. Similar to Illarramendi, Fraser is a confident passer who can help Dallas convert defense into attack.
“I like to get on the ball, I like to look forward and spray long passes and join the play,” Fraser said. “I'm very technical, so being able to break lines with my passes is an asset I think I can bring to the team. I have a big tank so I can run and cover quite a bit of ground. I’ll really emphasize that on the defensive side as well.”
“Liam has a really good profile for the league,” Estévez said. “He already has a lot of experience in Toronto and Columbus. He has international experience with Canada has play has played meaningful games, World Cup qualifiers and CONCACAF Gold Cup. So, he brings us also some experience in those kinds of games. He also competes in different positions, he can play as a 6 (defensive mid) and play center back. I think he really improves our roster.”
It will be interesting to see how Estévez configures his new midfield once MLS play resumes towards the end of August. Dallas’ roster now includes three defensive mids, Illarramendi, Fraser and Facundo Quignon (Edwin Cerrillo recently departed for LA Galaxy). With three box-to-box mids (Sebastian Lletget, Paxton Pomykal, Tsiki Ntsabeleng) as well, there’s going to be plenty of competition for the three starting spots.
Illarramendi and Fraser’s arrivals also give Estévez an option to play two defensive midfielders behind a Number 10-type player, rather than one defensive mid behind two advanced mids. Alan Velasco, traditionally a winger, played as an attacking midfielder to great effect during the Leagues Cup. It's possible we see the Argentine operate in that position more often now that Estévez has more flexibility in his midfield.
“We’ve shown that we can play with one 6 or two 6s,” Estévez explained. “And it's important that, when we prepare for an opponent, we select the best shape that we're going to need in that game. We have a really, really busy September with a lot of games and we're going to have to rotate players.”