TORONTO — After nearly two years of watching Ager Aketxe, Toronto FC finally signed the Spanish midfielder on Friday using targeted allocation money.
Fellow Spaniard Victor Vazquez played a large part in helping the 24-year-old finalize his decision to come to Toronto.
"As soon as the market opened, there was a variety of clubs interested in me, but Toronto FC really showed a keen interest on bringing me over," Aketxe said through a translator on Friday.
"Victor has really helped in transitioning me into making the decision in coming here and telling me about all the great things that Toronto has to offer. That kind of helps a lot, for sure."
The native of Bilbao, Spain joins the Reds after playing with Cadiz CF where he scored five goals in 18 appearances.
Aketxe spent his entire youth career with Athletic Bilbao after joining the academy at the age of 10.
After spending three seasons with Bilbao Athletic (Athletic Bilbao B) of the Segunda División B, Aketxe was promoted to Athletic Bilbao's first team at the beginning of the 2014 season.
The five-foot-seven, 145-pounder made his professional debut on Sept. 17, 2014 when he came on as a substitute in a UEFA Champions League match against FC Shakhtar Donetsk. Aketxe scored his first professional goal in La Liga against Elche CF.
However, Aketxe was never able to earn a permanent spot with the top club.
Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said the club first saw Aketxe during the summer of 2016, but an injury slowed the process of acquiring him.
"We were watching him, looking for that attacking midfielder," Bezbatchenko said. "He actually picked up an injury that fall and so we sort of put him on a watch list. It was sort of late fall, early winter in 2017 where we sort of picked it back up and saw that he'd been playing."
Aketxe made 12 appearances for Athletic Bilbao this season, but hadn't played for the club since December.
He becomes the Reds third significant signing of the MLS off-season, joining defender Gregory van der Wiel and wingback Auro Alvaro da Cruz Junior.
"I want to be at a club where I'm wanted and where I can show my quality and do what I can for the club," Aketxe said through his interpreter. "I feel the interest Toronto put in me was really something intriguing to me to come over here."
The left-footed Aketxe gives TFC coach Greg Vanney plenty of options going forward.
"Depending on how we want to play on a given day, we can drop him and sit him a little bit deeper as an eight or he can play the diamond or he can play coming off the right side as a winger, we can play him at the 10 - a lot of versatility in his game," said Vanney. "It depends on how we want to set up on a given day."
Toronto is back in action on Feb. 27 when they play host to the Colorado Rapids in the second leg of its CONCACAF Champions League round-of-16 series. The Reds picked up a 2-0 win in Colorado on Tuesday.
TFC begins its MLS Cup defence on March 3 at BMO Field against the Columbus Crew.