Ayo Akinola - portrait - hat trick - July 16

We’re all getting to know Ayo Akinola the soccer player, a 20-year-old emerging star for Toronto FC who’s prompted a tug-of-war between the United States and Canada men’s national teams.

But few know what Akinola overcame to reach this point, far before he signed a Homegrown Player deal and burst onto the scene with five goals at this past summer’s MLS is Back Tournament.

Step in a TSN Original short film called “Together,” which takes viewers into Akinola’s personal life and his biggest motivator: his mom.

“It’s always in the back of my mind that I do not want to see that phase that she was in back in the shelter ever again,” Akinola said. “That’s what drives me. I’m going to do everything in my power for her to live a good life.”

A shelter, you might ask? Akinola disclosed how when he was younger, as rent payments piled up, his family landed in a homeless shelter. They also spent a brief period living in their car, and there was a tragic moment that nearly changed their entire family’s path. Akinola discussed how his mother attempted to take her own life as depression piled up, something he witnessed before a life-saving intervention.

“That was just like a turning point for me that even though I was young, I knew that I was determined, I knew that I was going to make something out of this career,” Akinola said. “No matter what it took, soccer was my go-to and that I could support my family in any way so that my mom doesn’t have to feel like she failed or anything, that she has a son she can lean on, that she can count on.”

Fast forward and there's his MLS debut in a July 2018 match against Minnesota United, plus his first goal in a March 2019 game against the New England Revolution. Now, he has eight goals in 13 games in 2020 as one of the league's top young players.

All along, Akinola doesn’t lose sight of what drives him.

“That’s me giving back, just that unconditional love and support and knowing that she had the faith in me, now’s the time to step up and become the man she raised me to be and pay her back in a big way,” Akinola said.

For more on Akinola’s harrowing journey, check out the full video above and TSN story here.