Entering his senior season at Wake Forest, Jon Bakero was asked to make a transition into a leadership role.
While some may have struggled with the extra responsibility, Bakero shouldered it and became the man the Demon Deacons relied on.
“A year ago we lost three first-team All-Americans and we needed guys that were on paper role players and Jon Bakero was one of those guys,” Wake Forest head coach Bobby Muuss told SBI. “Although he scored 12 goals his junior year, he was still a role player because we needed him to chip in and play well, but we needed Jacori (Hayes) and Ian (Harkes) to lead us not to let up goals. He was going to have to make a decision and this transition that occurs between going from a role player and going to leader. To say that he did that flawlessly, I don’t think I could say that about a lot of people.”
Days away from starting his MLS career, Bakero is expected to make a similar seamless transition with a unique skill set that can benefit any of his potential suitors.
“His want and ability and understanding that that is a role of the position based off how teams play, but then his movement off the back four, occupying defenders and coming off their shoulders and finding balls in seams and pockets is better than anyone I’ve coached,” Muuss said.
Bakero has made quite a few transitions in life that few would be willing to take on. The son of former Barcelona and Spain star Jose Mari Bakero, Jon opted to come over to the United States at 17 to continue his education and soccer career.
But even with his pedigree, Bakero found the switch to college soccer difficult at first because of the nature of the game.
“My dad used to play soccer in Spain and he was one of the best players for his age,” Bakero said. “There was always a lot of pressure with my name and I wanted to get away a little bit from that. So coming here to the U.S. and getting away from being the son of and becoming Jon Bakero has been something very important for me.”
“It was more physical,” Bakero added. “I didn’t really know what to expect because I didn’t really know what college soccer was. I was surprised with how good the level was and it took me some time to adapt to it.”
Bakero blossomed into a star on the collegiate level culminating with the MAC Hermann Trophy. As scary as it sounds, his coach thinks he could’ve produced more than the 16 goals and 14 assists he recorded in his senior season.
“I tell people all the time if it wasn’t for me, Jon would have 22-23 goals,” Muuss said. “In the first five games of the season, I think he averaged 42 minutes a game. We were scoring early and often and we managed his minutes because we knew it was going to be a long season.”
Being able to not only score, but set up his teammates as well is what set the Spaniard apart from most of the other stars in college soccer in 2017.
“I think highly of his ability to get on the turn, not only be able to finish in front of goal, but to set others up,” Muuss said. “We see a lot of kids in college soccer with 12, 14, 16 goals, but you don’t see them follow it up with 14 assists.”
For all the success he’s achieved at the college level, Bakero is well aware the next transition of his career won’t be an easy one as he jumps to MLS.
“I would love to (make an impact right away), but I know it’s not going to be that easy,” Bakero said. “It’s a process and making the jump to professional soccer isn’t going to be easy, but I’m excited to get an opportunity and work as hard as I can.”
Throughout the whole process, he’s received nothing but support from his father, who has expressed nothing but pride in the budding star his son has turned into.
“He’s never really put pressure on me or ever wanted me to play soccer,” Bakero said. “He’s just excited for everything that’s happening. He’s proud and he’s someone I talk to a lot about soccer and get a lot of tips. I’ve never really had a lot of pressure from him in that sense.”
Bakero also has another supporter in his corner, a coach who is well aware of the impact he can make in Year 1 in MLS.
“The guy works all the time,” Muuss said. “He doesn’t take a day off. He’s a pro’s pro that way. The man that he’s become by embracing the college system is something that the professional game would’ve never prepared him for.”