LAUDERHILL, Fla. — At the annual adidas MLS Player Combine, it's customary to speak of players as if they were publicly traded equities. They masquerade as stocks that go up and down in value depending on how they perform at the Florida showcase.
And if California center backs Christian Dean and Steve Birnbaum are the blue-chippers, then winger/forward Tesho Akindele is the penny stock of the situation that investors are beginning to buy into.
It's safe to say that after three matches at the 2014 Combine, Akindele, who attended Division II school Colorado School of Mines, went from a no-namer and a preseason training camp invitee at best to a potential first-round pick with a blend of athleticism, quickness and speed. And even his worst performance in Tuesday's finale couldn't dampen his enthusiasm (his Predator side lost 1-0 to adiZero).
"After scoring the goal on the first day it was like, 'OK, this guy has got some stuff,'" Akindele told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. "And then the second day I didn't score, but I got some shots off. And I think that solidified that 'This guy is a good player and the goals he scored in D-II were not because he was playing bad people.'
"I'm a good player. And I've proved that since I've been here."
He proved it enough that his Monday off day was booked up with seven club interviews — a total unheard of for players in a single day at the Combine. It was a chance for the professional soccer ranks to finally get to know Akindele up close after he spent the last few years avoiding them.
Not intentionally. The Canadian-born Colorado native (he made a brief cameo with Canada's U-17 program) had charted a course of his own.
So when the Rapids invited him to join their academy teams (he made some guest appearances with their youth teams), he stayed loyal to his club team Storm North. When top Division I schools in California like UC Santa Barbara chased him, he opted to go to the academically renowned Colorado School of Mines to study electrical engineering.
When he was scoring by the boatload in D2, colleges wooed him to transfer. But he stayed in the school "where geniuses are walking around" that has produced a single MLS player in its history: former D.C. United player Craig Thompson.
"Education, man. It's one of the best engineering schools in the country. That's why I went there," Akindele said. "I was getting a good degree and also playing pretty good soccer."
But his pro soccer dreams were always in the back of his mind and he's taken a break from chasing his degree to concentrate on soccer. He'll get around to hiring an agent soon enough. But given it's Akindele, maybe not.
"I knew that I was good enough to get here and it doesn't matter where you come from here," said the self-proclaimed nerd who prefers playing Smash Brothers on Nintendo 64 than the modern fare. "We're not wearing School of Mines jerseys … That's why I'm here.
"It's persistence. That's what you need to succeed. And I got that."