Aird honours his roots with standout display

Scotland 1 Canada 1

By Matthew Gourlie

Fraser Aird’s love of the game was — like so many before him — passed down from father to son.

Aird’s love of soccer began with Saturday morning trips to watch his father’s team, Glasgow Rangers, at a local supporters club in Scarborough where his father was a lifetime member.

Aird’s path to becoming a professional began by playing with players nearly twice his age with his older brother Cameron.

Bill Aird had a season seat at Ibrox before emigrating to Canada in 1987. So too did Fraser’s maternal grandfather. Rangers was, quite simply for Aird, in his blood.

The Old Firm giants would be in his future as well. At 16, Fraser Aird signed with Rangers in 2011.

Aird helped Rangers climbed the rungs back up the Scottish footballing pyramid after they were liquidated in 2012 and began anew in the fourth-tier. He made 85 first-team appearances before he and Rangers agreed to mutually part ways on January 18.

Twelve days later, Bill Aird died at the age of 65. There was a celebration of his life at the Glasgow Rangers Supporters Club in Scarborough.

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Fraser Aird put in a man of the match performance and scored his first goal for Canada in a 1-1 draw with Scotland. Canada Soccer photo

And so it came, seven weeks after losing his father, Fraser Aird stepped onto the Easter Road pitch in Edinburgh to represent the country of his birth against his parent’s ancestral home. It was a ground his father knew well, having never missed a Rangers match over a six-year run that saw him watch every Rangers match home or away, domestic or continental.

Aird opened the scoring in the 11th minute and put in a man of the match performance in a 1-1 draw with Scotland.

A cross by Maxim Tissot wasn’t dealt with by Lee Wallace, nor Charlie Mulgrew in the Scottish defence and fell to Aird on his right foot. There was some good fortune to his goal, but no luck in they way he finished his chance, smashing it the far corner.

“I’m obviously delighted and he must have been watching down on me today,” said Aird who kissed his hands and pointed his index fingers to the heavens after scoring. “That goal was for him — first goal for my country. He was a big part of my decision to play for Canada, even though he was Scottish, so all credit to him for that and I think I’ve made the right decision.”

Aird immediately found a new home at Falkirk FC in the Scottish Championship after being let go by Rangers and has returned to his more familiar midfield role after spending most of last season on loan with MLS’s Vancouver Whitecaps playing as a right back.

He looked at home in an attacking role as he tormented his former teammate, Rangers left back Wallace, throughout the first half. Aird was able to cut in off of the flank and his left-footed effort just missed doubling the Canadian lead. In the 78th another left-footed blast had Scotland keeper Allan McGregor at full stretch to tip the shot over the bar.

It was Aird’s fifth senior cap for Canada and a performance that seemed like it might never come to pass.

Aird had four goals in 10 appearances with Scotland’s under-17s and under-19s after previously earning a Canadian under-15 cap. Canadian interim manager Colin Miller called him into the provisional squad for the 2013 Gold Cup. Aird decided to press pause on his international future and decide what he truly wanted before making his senior debut.

Former Scottish international Ian Durrant, a Rangers’ legend and Aird’s under-20 manager at the club, gave him some simple advice: don’t try to please anyone else and follow your heart.

“I’m happy with my decision now,” Aird told Stewart Fisher from Scotland’s Sunday Herald before the match. “I feel Canadian, 100 per cent. I was born there, spent the first 16 years of my life there, and that’s where I felt I should be at the end of the day. I’m glad I took the time when I was younger to think about it and make my mind up.”

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Canada’s Fraser Aird, right, opened the scoring at Easter Road in front of Scotland defenders Charlie Mulgrew and Lee Wallace. Canada Soccer photo

It was Michael Findlay’s last game in charge as Canada’s interim manager and with new boss Octavio Zambrano in attendance, Findlay’s charges took a positive approach. Canada moved farther away from Benito Floro’s defensive-minded 4-1-4-1 formation and started attacking midfielder Marco Bustos in front of a midfield four, while Adam Straith played in the centre of the defence for the second straight match after spending much of Floro’s tenure playing in the holding role in front of the back-four.

With Aird on the right and Junior Hoilett on the left getting forward with purpose and cutting infield to create danger, the 4-4-1-1 played close to what is expected to be Zambrano’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.

While Aird grabbed the headlines, Samuel Piette quietly had one of his best games for his country.

Piette had more recoveries, clearances and interceptions than Scott Arfield did playing beside him. Piette also completed more passes — 47 to 26 — and completed a higher percentage of his passes: 85.5 per cent compared to Arfield’s 70.3 per cent.

For his trouble, the Scottish-born Arfield heard a smattering of boos when he was on the ball.

Findlay was pleased to with the result and the fact that his side scored first and created enough chances to win the match. He praised the young players for the quality of their collective performance.

“We’re displaying the qualities that exist in our program,” said Findlay who was an assistant under Floro and will assume the same post under Zambrano. “Given the opportunity to play, these players perform. We’re looking at players of potential. We’re not looking at players that are maybe established and nearing the end of their international careers. This is the beginning of their career. So you have to look very positively at their performance and what they provided tonight.”

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Canada’s Junior Hoilett, left, shows off his footwork in front of Scotland captain Darren Fletcher. Canada Soccer photo

It was a special evening for Findlay as well. He who spent three of his teenage years trying to earn a contract with Celtic and Partick Thistle. While at Celtic, he lived with the family of current Sunderland manager David Moyes who is the same age and would go on to break into the Celtic first team.

Scotland rested the five Celtic players in their squad as they focused on a vital home World Cup qualifying fixture against Slovenia on the Sunday at Hampden Park. Scotland is fifth in Group F and are four points behind Slovenia who are in a playoff spot. Nothing less than a victory at home is viewed as being sufficient to keep hope alive in their campaign.

While they should have been the more motivated side, Scotland had more of the ball, but struggled to translate that into quality chances.

Most of Scotland’s early danger came from Ikechi Anya on their right flank who found a lot of space against Tissot who was deputizing at left back. Anya sent seven crosses into the box, but was only able to manufacture a pair of decent chances. While Tissot’s positioning was inconsistent, he held up fairly well despite looking more comfortable in recent friendlies playing on the left side of midfield.

It took a village to create the shambles that was the Scottish equalizer. A turnover in the midfield by Arfield had Scotland on the break. The back four wasn’t on the same page and a good through ball by Fulham’s Tom Cairney found Wallace around the back. Wallace’s cross was deflected by Canadian defender Manjrekar James, spilled by keeper Simon Thomas and Straith and Arfield both tried to clear the ball at the same time which sent the ball to Cairney at the penalty spot. Cairney fired the ball off of Steven Naismith and in.

Straith and James were far from perfect, but the new defence pairing was as good, if not better than most that have been deployed in the past two years and didn’t hurt their prospects any. James’ distribution from the back was not good enough on the night, but he did make some vital blocks and interventions in the box.

Nik Ledgerwood earned his 50th cap and captained the side and put out of Canada’s best performances of the night. With Aird’s return to the midfield for club and country, the right back spot seems to be Ledgerwood’s for the foreseeable future.

Marco Bustos hadn’t been able to get on the pitch with the Vancouver Whitecaps during their busy start to the season, but he earned a full 90 minutes in a central creative role in the midfield. Bustos showed some of his technical quality, but outside of a shot that curled just wide of the top corner just before half time, he failed to impose himself on the match.

Beyond one miscommunication with Hoilett and one time he lost the ball off of the dribble, La’Vere Corbin-Ong had a successful debut. The 25-year-old left back from  FSV Frankfurt in Germany completed 11 of his 12 attempted passes and held his own defensively. He also showed some pace and good movement up and down the flank.

Cairney had a strong debut in the centre of the midfield for Scotland.

Scotland 1 Canada 1

Aird 11; Naismith 35.

Scotland: McGregor; Anya, Berra, Mulgrew, Wallace (Robertson 46); D. Fletcher, Cairney (McGinn 76); Snodgrass; Naismith (Rhodes 62), Burke (Bannan 46); C. Martin (Griffiths 62).

Canada: Thomas (Leutwiler 46); Ledgerwood, Straith, James, Tissot (Corbin-Ong 68); Aird, Arfield (Trafford 94), Piette, Hoilett; Bustos; Jackson (Fisk 76).

Referee: Jakob Kehlet, Denmark.

Attendance: 9,158 — Easter Road, Edinburgh, Scotland.

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