COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Colorado Rapids striker Andre Akpan went more than two months in the middle of the summer without seeing a single minute of MLS action. But after a long absence away from the pitch, it appears the 24-year-old will be back on it for the final two games of the season.
Akpan started the Rapids’ 4-1 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes this past weekend, providing the lone bright spot on a 92nd-minute consolation penalty score. But perhaps more importantly, it appears that after riding the bench for the first two-and-a-half years of his career, the third-year player out of Harvard will finally get his chance to make an impression as 2012 comes to a close.
“Things are a little bit different now, and [Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja] said publicly he wants to get guys who didn’t get a ton of minutes this year to get some more time these last few games,” Akpan told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “I’d love to keep getting minutes and hopefully keep scoring goals.”
It's true that Pareja has said he wants to trot out his younger players in the final two games of the season with the Rapids already eliminated from playoff contention, but Akpan's surge into the starting lineup is also a product of the notion that the Grand Prairie, Texas, native has earned his spot.
“[Akpan] for sure is one of the players that will be involved,” Pareja said. “He could come from the bench, but for sure it’s a good opportunity, in the case of Andre, to keep rewarding his effort and his commitment.”
Over the summer, Pareja noticed “more commitment” from the 24-year-old, and it led to increased playing time in August and September, including three starts.
The big forward only has nine career starts to his name – including Saturday – but chances are that the Rapids’ final two games will give Harvard’s all-time leading goalscorer MLS starts Nos. 10 and 11 of his career. It's an opportunity that he knows could lead to more significant – and more meaningful – playing time in 2013 and beyond.
“There was a long stretch there during the summer where I wasn’t even in the 18, and it’s tough, it’s tough for any player, especially in your third year, [because] you want to play,” Akpan said. “But it looks like hopefully I’m kind of at it up here and hopefully I can continue to improve.”
Chris Bianchi cover the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.