The trial comes on the heels of Akinola’s impressive performance with the US at the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India, where he was instrumental in the US progressing to the knockout stage before bowing out to eventual winners England in the quarterfinals. The 17-year-old appeared for PSV’s U-19s in a friendly at the end of October, scoring the opening goal in a 5-0 win against Belgian club Racing Genk.
“He's doing great,” TFC head coach Greg Vanney said on Oct. 18 of Akinola's play in India. “I give him a lot of credit for the plays he's been able to make and the performances he's had at the U-17 World Cup. It's a stage for you to perform. He's done a nice job of doing that.
“He plays a key part in his team [and] understands his strengths as a player and plays to them. It's been good to see. I'm happy for his successes there.”
Born in Detroit, Akinola and moved to Ontario with his family at a young age. He’s eligible for the American, Canadian and, by heritage, Nigerian national teams, but has only represented the US on the international stage.
While he’s still a member of the club’s academy, Akinola hasn’t suited up often for TFC since 2016. He spent the first part of 2017 with the US U-17s at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. and went on trial with PSV following the World Cup. He made 10 USL appearances with TFC II in 2016.
There has been plenty of debate since the US men's national team failed to reach the 2018 FIFA World Cup over the best career path for young American players for players to take with a popular line of thinking being that American players should test themselves in Europe at a young age.
Vanney "wholeheartedly disagrees" with that sentiment.
“It's purely situational,” said Vanney. “If an ideal situation shows up for a player… it's the right club, it's the right situation, which is not easy to find, then it might make sense.
“[The] environments that are being created in [our] academies, the player pathway, that for TFC includes a USL program, is proving to be a very viable stepping stone to become a highly-capable professional.”
Speaking on Tuesday, TFC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko stressed that "under the guidance and supervision of TFC we sometimes allow our young players the opportunity to get experiences outside the walls of our training grounds, this includes training stints with clubs overseas, which helps with their development and overall perspective."
In addition to Akinola, TFC currently have four academy products – Liam Fraser, Aidan Daniels, Malik Johnson and Luca Uccello, who play with TFC II – on a training stint in Denmark with HB Koge.
"The project being built at TFC will allow Ayo to stay closer to home to continue his development,” continued Bezbatchenko. “And right now the discussions reflect the confidence the player has in the club. He is showing that he's fully capable at a high level at U-17. But it's a different game when you get to the pros.”
“He hasn't been around here all the time, but when he comes back we get him into the USL, try to push him forward and challenge him,” added Vanney. “We look forward to having him with us at the full professional level in the not too distant future.”