VANCOUVER, B.C. – After Mouloud Akloul scored the winning to goal to send Vancouver Whitecaps FC to the Nutrilite Canadian Championship finals on Wednesday, he ran to the sideline and performed a bit of an odd celebration.
It appeared to be some kind of dance that was half running-man and half robot, but Akloul later explained that it was much more meaningful than that. The celebration was in fact an ode to an exercise that he did while rehabilitating from a broken ankle, and he was dedicated to physiotherapist Randy Celebrini, who helped him overcome the debilitating injury.
“I worked for one year with Randy, every day,” Akloul said after the win over Montreal. “So it’s a perfect day for me and all the staff who helped me with my recovery.”
Akloul’s story has been well documented. The French center back made a smashing debut with the Whitecaps in the USSF D-2 league last year, both figuratively and literally. The 6-foot-2 defender scored a goal 19 minutes into his first match, but broke his ankle on the same play and was sidelined for an entire year.
This time around, however, Akloul lasted the entire duration of an exhausting 120-minute match. He got his team going in the extra frame at Empire Field, waving his arms up and down to pump up the crowd as the game went past 10 pm PT.
“Very crazy people here,” Akloul said of Vancouver’s rabid fans. “It’s good for the team. People come out to the game and stay so late, I thank them for coming because they have to work tomorrow.”
With Celebrini among those loyal fans, Akloul was motivated to show his gratitude to everyone who stuck by him while he was out and took it upon himself to get aggressive in the box and score the winning goal.
Now, with his injury behind him, his teammates feel that they’re finally getting the player that they’ve been hoping to see for so long.
“It’s huge for him,” said goalkeeper Jay Nolly. “For him to break through and get a goal, I think he’ll start loosening up more. He’s a very vocal guy and we need players like that on the field. I think he’s going to relish it.”