Three days after Canada’s all-time leading scorer officially announced his retirement, head coach Benito Floro unveiled what could be the national team’s strike force of the future.
On Saturday, Dwayne De Rosario – who scored 22 goals in his Canada career, including two earlier this year – confirmed that his playing days are over. With DeRo done, questions arose over who would score the goals for Canada with World Cup qualifiers and a CONCACAF Gold Cup on the immediate horizon.
Akindele, 23, stormed his way to the 2014 MLS Rookie of the Year award with his goalscoring prowess for FC Dallas, while 20-year-old Larin – this year’s No. 1 overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft – has been filling the net for Orlando City SC in his rookie campaign.
Both will be part of Canada’s upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Dominica (June 11 and 16) as Floro’s team looks to put a mostly ugly (and goalless) two-year stretch behind them.
“To score a goal is the first and the most important step to win a game,” Floro told reporters on Tuesday. “And we are confident both [Larin and Akindele] are in good condition to score goals.”
Both are relatively new to the Canadian program; Larin attended his first Canadian training camp in January 2014 while still playing at the University of Connecticut. He’s made five appearances and scored one goal since then.
Akindele, meanwhile, has no Canadian national-team experience beyond one Under-17 camp back in 2009. He did accept a call from Floro in November 2014, before changing his mind at the last minute when interest came from the US team.
Floro said that while he has been following Akindele’s performance (three goals and one assist in 13 MLS games so far this season), it was also important to confirm where his loyalties were by calling him for games in which he could be permanently cap-tied to Canada.
“I made a decision to call Tesho for an official camp because if he was in a condition to say yes, for us, it would be better if he is here definitely,” said Floro. “He desired to play with Canada.”
For his part, Akindele appears to be satisfied with his choice.
“It’s just a great honor to represent my country – you know, something I’ve been dreaming about since I was a kid,” Akindele told FC Dallas’s website on Tuesday.
As for Larin, he already has four goals for Orlando City and bagged his first goal for Canada in a friendly against Puerto Rico in March. The top draft pick knows how much his talent could affect the national team’s performance – and its perception.
“I want to show people that Canada’s a really good soccer country and we’re starting to be on the map,” Larin told MLSsoccer.com earlier this year. “I want to show that we can play and hopefully make it to the World Cup and do good things. It’s important for people to see that and young kids to see that and support us.”
Floro is pleased to have the sudden influx of goalscoring punch in his lineup, especially with such important games coming up shortly.
“At this moment, there are three or four players with a good possibility to… score a goal,” said Floro. “We are making our tactical structure accordingly… we need from them to participate a lot, creating a chance on goal and to score a goal.”
Floro said that even though it’s important for his team to “play collectively” in creating goalscoring opportunities, “sometimes we need individual inspiration.”
For years, De Rosario provided many such moments of individual inspiration for Canada. Now, followers of the national team will be hoping that Larin and Akindele are ready to pick up that torch.