Richie Laryea wasn't surprised when Liam Fraser launched a laserlike pass from distance to trigger a Jonathan David goal in Canada's World Cup qualifying win in Honduras last week.
Laryea had seen Fraser do it time and time again in practice.
"You see him go make a pass like that and I think everyone's outside of our team is going crazy, thinking 'Wow, what a pass that is.' But especially for me, being with him the last four years (at Toronto FC), those are passes I've seen him make with his eyes closed on the training field," Laryea said.
"He's a special player. He definitely has a wide range of passing that you don't find too often and he's very good at it."
Fraser has played his part in what coach John Herdman calls Canada's "next man up" culture."
In Honduras, Fraser came on for the injured Samuel Piette in the 39th minute, setting up David's goal 34 minutes later.
"He's that sort of player … The pass he made to Jonny was an absolute laser," Herdman said approvingly after the match. "It's a special story that's unfolding here. It seems like every man is being able to contribute on the journey."
That road has taken the Canadian men to San Salvador for a World Cup qualifying game against El Salvador on Wednesday, the last in the current international window.
Fraser deflected all praise on the Honduras goal to David, who angled his body to take the pass on his chest as he kept flying towards the Honduras goal. The Lille striker then headed the ball ahead of him and, outracing two defenders, chipped the goalkeeper when he retrieved it at the edge of the penalty box.
"If I'm honest, the way he took it down was by far the most incredible thing of the whole move," Fraser said. "I give him credit."
But with time running out and Canada up a goal, Fraser knew Honduras would be throwing players forward and thus be thin at the back. So he looked up the field when Sam Adekugbe slipped the ball to him after Tajon Buchanan stole it away from a Honduran just outside Canada's penalty box.
That savvy combined with his passing skill put David on his way.
Fraser came off the bench again Sunday in Hamilton, earning his 13th cap in the 2-0 win over the U.S. in Hamilton.
The young midfielder is no stranger to stepping up.
He won his first senior cap in October 2019, replacing the injured Mark-Anthony Kaye in the fifth minute of a CONCACAF Nations League game against the U.S. before family and friends in Toronto. He fit in seamlessly, helping Canada to a 2-2 win that ended a 34-year, 17-match winless run against its North American rivals.
And he did it at BMO Field where he once served as a ball boy.
Both Laryea and Fraser found new clubs in January.
Laryea joined Nottingham Forest of England's Championship while Fraser signed with KMSK Deinze in the Belgian second tier.
The 23-year-old from Toronto joined Columbus last May on loan from Toronto FC where his progress had been blocked by the formidable presence of captain Michael Bradley.
“I feel I’m able to be patient because the times when I’m not playing, I’m still learning a lot,” Fraser told The Canadian Press back in October 2019. “So it’s not like I’m standing still. I’m still moving forward a bit and learning from Michael and learning from other players in the team and the coaching staff.
“I would never say I’m stagnant, I’m not doing anything. But again it is hard not getting those opportunities sometimes when I feel I deserve them. But it’s the life of a footballer. It’s the life — ups and downs.”
He made one appearance for Toronto and 23 for Columbus last season. Out of contract with Toronto at the end of 2021, he looked to Europe.
Fraser arrived in Belgium in early January, taking part in a training camp in Spain. He has played in four friendlies and looks to make his season debut when he returns from international duty.
"Honestly it's been amazing," he said.
"Everything's about football. Everything is about winning, the intensity of training, the seriousness of training, the love for football is just so big over there … It's something I'm so fortunate to be a part of and experience right now," he added.
Deinze (5-3-9) currently stands fourth in the eight-team Belgian First Division B. Fraser says the club, located southwest of Ghent, has "a point to prove and a purpose. And that purpose is to get promoted."
He hopes to use his time with Deinze as a "springboard" in Europe.
Born in Toronto, Fraser moved to Vancouver with his family when he was eight or nine. He spent six years with the Vancouver Whitecaps residency program before returning to Toronto in 2013.
He joined the TFC academy, signing with Toronto FC II in February 2016. The former Canadian under-20 captain signed with the first team as a homegrown player in January 2018.
He went on to make 56 regular-season MLS appearances with 31 starts.
Laryea is enjoying watching his friend's progress.
"Liam's a top top player, man," he said. "Honestly seeing this guy work for the last four years and seeing what he puts in every day's session, game. The way he takes his opportunities when they come, it's special.
"Not many people can do it. Some people get down on themselves for the certain situations he's gone through in his career so far. But he just keeps trucking along. That moment there (the pass in Honduras), it's beautiful because how can you not be happy for a guy like that that spills everything he has day-in, day-out?"
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2022
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press