While it wasn’t Ayo Akinola’s MLS debut in Sunday’s 3-2 win by Toronto FC over the New England Revolution, the US youth international tallied his first goal in league play, a memorable moment for the Canadian-American.
Well-versed to the hardcore US fan due to his exploits with the US Under-17 and Under-20 national teams, Akinola is only scratching the surface as he taps into his potential. Get to know the up-and-coming forward a bit more.
Need To Know
Born in Detroit before moving to the Greater Toronto Area, Akinola’s part of a new wave of Homegrown players to log significant time at each level of the team’s academy. Before signing with Toronto, Akinola went on trial in Europe after the 2017 Under-17 World Cup, but eventually inked a Homegrown contract with TFC at the end of that year. Now with his first start under his belt, it’s the first step for the attacker looking to make a name for himself next to Toronto FC teammate Jozy Altidore.
Growing up in Brampton in the Toronto suburbs, Akinola played at Brampton Youth Soccer Club before joining up with TFC academy. A longtime member of the academy, Akinola climbed the ladder, going from the academy, getting minutes in the USL as an amateur, to signing a Homegrown contract at the end of 2017.
Since 2014, Akinola’s earned call-ups to various US youth national teams, getting appearances with the Under-14s, Under-17s and Under-20s. He was part of the 2017 U-17 World Cup squad, and last fall helped the US U-20 MNT win the Concacaf Championship. He's currently in camps with the Under-20's as they prepare for the World Cup.
Why He's Special
Speed and physicality are a big part of what has helped Akinola stand out in the past as he carved up various levels of academy and youth international age groups. His first goal in MLS sums up what he does well: takes defenders on, gets himself into a good spot to finish and puts it in the back of the net. If he continues to work on improving on the ball and show the kind of intelligent runs he did against New England, he can develop into a regular contributor in MLS at the very minimum, if not a high-end attacking player.
Able to be deployed as a wide attacker in a three-forward line on either the right or left, Akinola has also played as the No. 9 in a 4-3-3 and paired up front with Jordan Hamilton against New England. He’s capable of lining up anywhere he can run into space with the ball at his feet, and could lead the line on his own as he did with the US U-20s.
Areas of Improvement
As previously noted, relying on his physicality is what has helped carry him to his point. Continuing to refine his game, improving his ability on the ball and connecting play in the final third would help him see more minutes on the field; he could end up as a prototypical No. 9 when he’s finished developing.
“Akinola possesses similar physical attributes to teammate Jozy Altidore; a big, physical striker with the strength to not be knocked off the ball by center backs. He has a touch more quickness that Altidore, and is comfortable in his touches on the ball to create separation in 1v1 situations."
The Altidore comparison is an easy one to strike, and with Akinola able to learn from the established USMNT striker in Toronto, it should be a boon for his development. At youth national team levels, Akinola’s seen extensive run as a wide attacker, where his ability to run at defenders and take them on is reminiscent of Paul Arriola. Akinola is more of a physical presence, though like Arriola, can pop up in dangerous parts of the field to score or create goals.