FRISCO, Texas - After being notified that he would be receiving his first start in nearly three months the night before Saturday’s 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas forward Tesho Akindele made a bold prediction to his coaching staff.
That prediction turned out to be a reality.
“I told them I’d repay them with a goal,” Akindele told MLSsoccer.com. “I said, ‘I’m going to score a goal tonight, and I’m going to come celebrate with you.’"
Akindele made good on his promise, as he was the difference-maker in the win that vaulted Dallas back into third place in the Western Conference. Aside from scoring his first goal since his game-winner against the LA Galaxy on May 9, the reigning MLS Rookie of the Year also contributed in other aspects to add to his case for why he should continue to start.
He came out of the gates firing and applied pressure through the early stages of the game, taking shots and setting up his teammates in his traditional forward position in the 4-4-2 formation. Akindele finished with a season-high four shots and netted his fourth goal of the season, which was a product of his savvy in the box and his ability to drain a penalty kick.
None of that would have been possible had head coach Oscar Pareja not shaken up the starting lineup on the heels of three straight losses and only one goal scored in that stretch.
“We wanted to spark something there,” Pareja said. “We came off a stretch of not scoring. I wanted to give the opportunity to somebody else, and [David] Texeira and Tesho today did a great job on that part.”
The 10th start of the season for Akindele meant usual starter Blas Perez was relegated to the bench. FC Dallas might continue with that personnel set-up after seeing Akindele live in the 18-yard box for much of Saturday night.
For Pareja, seeing his young forward – who will travel to Canada in the coming days for CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers – respond that way to the lineup change was delightful.
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“Tesho has something, and you’ll see that, the conviction that he has,” Pareja said. “When he tells you, ‘I’m going to score tonight,’ I like that. He really had that in his mind.”
The emotion was mutual. After his goal in the 51st minute, Akindele jogged on a direct path to the Dallas sideline and embraced Pareja and the rest of the coaching staff.
“He was insisting a lot on that part, ‘Coach, I’m going to score for you today,’” Pareja recalled. “That was an emotional moment. He wanted to come and remind me [he said] that.”
Delivering on the promise may have been emotional for both Pareja and Akindele, but for Dallas’ Canadian forward, his goal-scoring performance was also about looking forward.
“I think I made my case to start in the future,” Akindele said. “At the end of the day, it’s the coach’s decision, obviously, but I’m happy with my performance.”
Scott Sidway covers FC Dallas for MLSsoccer.com.