Baltimore Blast defender Iain Fraser isn't anything like former Blast defender Bruce Savage, and Savage was nothing like San Diego Sockers defender Kevin Crow.
Yet all three share one thing in common: They have perfected the art of playing defense in the Major Soccer League.
Add St. Louis Storm defender Fernando Clavijo, and the list of the all-time best defenders in the MSL probably is complete. Someone out there may balk at the idea of Fraser being included in that company. After all, Savage, before he retired to join the U.S. national team, and Crow and Clavijo have been perennial All-Stars. Fraser, a six-year veteran, has been voted a league All-Star only once.
But that doesn't stop MSL coaches from adding his name to the list.
"I think if you put Fraser, Savage and Crow on a side against any five other players in the league, those three would probably win the game," said Blast coach Kenny Cooper. "They are clones of each other. Each is able to think under pressure. Each has great intelligence for the game. Each has great awareness and great peripheral vision. And each of them, even Bruce, has scored big goals. Each knows when to go forward and when to hold back."
This season, Fraser has been the Blast's most consistent player over the first 17 games.
"When Bruce retired, we lost one of the best man-to-man markers in the league," said Cooper. "When we went after Fraser, the idea was get someone who could do that job. Iain is very consistent at shutting down the opposition and he also brings the added dimension of being about to go forward very well. He's a good finisher when that's the role he's given."
San Diego coach Ron Newman agrees.
"When Kansas City folded, I tried to get him, too, but the Blast out-bid me," said Newman, who at the time was facing the possibility that Crow might retire. "I think Fraser is a Kevin Crow-type player. He gets his work done without much recognition off the floor.
"He's a player's player," Newman said. "The players all know his ability, but it takes a while to have those on-field accomplishments recognized off the field. Like Kevin, he's very consistent and he is always in the right place at the right time. I've never coached him, but it seems to me he is a composed player who knows the game and makes few mistakes."
So far this season, Fraser has six goals and his 39 blocked shots are second only to St. Louis defender Daryl Doran's 40. He has earned MSL defensive player of the week honors, fulfilling his duties as the Blast defender whose job it is to shut down the opposition's leading scorer.
This season, he has shut out Dallas' Tatu and Cleveland's Zoran Karic. Thursday night in Tacoma, Fraser shadowed Dale Mitchell. In St. Louis on Friday, he helped out on Preki and Branko Segota. Tonight, however, when the Blast plays host to the San Diego Sockers at 6 p.m. at the Baltimore Arena, Fraser's role will be slightly different.
"Because of San Diego's style, we don't match up right away," Fraser said of the Sockers' run-and-shoot offense. "They don't have a post-up guy like a Preki. And what that means for me is that I'll have a little more freedom to go forward."
As Cooper said, it is something Fraser can do well. and it is something Fraser is looking forward to.
"I think I've grown as a player a little bit since I've been here," Fraser said. "I've learned how to mark someone every night and still be in the game.