MLS Rookie Tesho Akindele Eyeing Goals, US Citizenship
Thanks to a recent scoring surge, the 22-year-old FC Dallas striker has emerged as a leading candidate for MLS Rookie of the Year. And, oh yes, he is scheduled to take his U.S. citizenship test next month.
BY Brooke Tunstall PostedBESIDES THE MOUNTAIN AIR, the scenery, and the quality education, one of the perks of attending the Colorado School of Mines is the free beer. The small college with an engineering bent is located in Golden, Colo., home of Coors Brewery, and there’s a spot on campus where students, at least those with IDs indicating they are at least 21, can go get a couple of malt beverages. “Yeah, they’re allowed two free beers a day," said CSM soccer coach Frank Kohlenstein. "But the smart ones, they go at shift change and are able to get a couple of extras." Many students partake, as you might imagine. But not all of them. "Tesho, he was never into that. I’m not gonna tell you he never went but when most of his teammates or classmates were (getting free beer), he’d be at this old field house we have here on campus practicing something with his game or studying video of great players, watching the game, learning. This is a tough school. Almost all the kids that come here are smart and focused but Tesho, he had a special dedication to getting better.” While being freakishly athletic doesn’t hurt either, Akindele’s commitment to improvement goes a long way to explain why he’s emerged this season as a consistent offensive threat for FC Dallas, which travels to Real Salt Lake this weekend for a key game between the third and fourth place teams in Major League Soccer's Western Conference. Dallas surprised many at this year’s SuperDraft when it took the unknown kid from the little-known Division II program in the Rockies with the 6th overall pick. But Akindele, 22, has justified the team's faith. He has started 15 of 18 games he’s played, either at flank midfield or as a forward, and has registered seven goals and two assists—the kind of showing that could make Akindele the club's first-ever MLS Rookie of the Year. (Ryan Suarez, in 2001, is the only Dallas player to be named among the league’s three annual rookie finalists.) Chicago’s Harrison Shipp (6 goals, 5 assists) got off to a strong start to become the early Rookie of the Year frontrunner but he’s been limited to one assist the past 10 games while Akindele is surging. “As a soccer player you want to go for every award you can,” said Akindele, who was born in Calgary to a Nigerian father and a Canadian mother but moved to the Denver suburbs when he was nine years old. “But it’s not my main focus to be rookie of the year. I don’t want it to distract me from the bigger picture. I want to do my best for the team and then everything else will fall in place.” Akindele is due to take his United States citizenship exam next month—we assume he’ll pass—which means he should be a U.S. citizen by the end of the year and eligible for the U.S. national team's January camp. He’s already been contacted by the Canadian national team, which invited him to a camp this month, though he opted to remain with Dallas. “I was really flattered that Canada called me. But right now I think it’s best to focus on my club career and help our playoff push,” he said. He was coy about a national team preference but admitted, “You want to play for someone who wants you and where you have a chance to play. As for who that is, I don’t know. That will probably take care of itself.” As for avoiding the beer, Akendele downplays his former coach’s praise. “I’m not really that much of a beer drinker, to be honest.” It seems amazing now, but Akindele was lightly recruited out of high school: “I only had a couple of offers from some smaller Division I schools in California so I decided to stay chose close to home and go to a great engineering school.” He wasted little time making an impact in college, scoring 19 goals as a freshman in 2010 and finishing his college career with a dizzying 76 goals and 35 assists in 80 games. He also scored a brace in a scrimmage against the Colorado Rapids reserves one spring, where the observers included Fernando Clavijo, now FC Dallas’ technical director, and Oscar Pareja, currently FCD’s head coach. “When you see a player with the capacity to score goals, that catches your eye," said Pareja, who coached the Rapids last year. "He is very sharp in front of the goal. He makes it very natural. He knows how to be in the right place." Still, it was Akindele’s performance at MLS’ annual scouting combine in Florida this winter, where Akindele stood out against players from the top Division I schools in the country, that convinced Pareja to take him. “Division I, Division II—it didn’t matter," Pareja added. "He was good. How he did at the combine convinced me to take him.” At six-foot-one and with wheels to “stretch a field and get behind a defense,” according to Pareja, Akindele was able to rely on his athleticism to dominate in college. But it’s his focus and drive that has enabled him separate from the rookie pack in MLS. “After his freshman year, it was pretty obvious he was special and could do some things at the next level if he was willing to put the work in,” said Kohlenstein, who previously guided UNC-Charlotte to the Division I Final Four in 1996. “We came up with a plan to challenge him to get better," the coach continued. "He studied the game, really absorbed it. He worked on it on the field but off it, too. We have this (England) Premier League fantasy league that we do here and every year the top two finishers were always Tesho and me. He was just watching everything about the (Premier League) to get better.” As one might expect from an electrical engineering major who would be doing “something with power systems of big cities,” if he weren’t playing soccer, it’s no surprise that Akindele is a student of the game. But plenty of smart kids from good schools have played in MLS. Not all can take their book-smarts and apply it to the field. “I joke with him, because he’s an engineer, he can see all the angles, know where to be,” said Pareja. “Knowing the school, I assumed he was smart. But he has the capacity to absorb information very fast and then use it on the field. In that way he’s like Dillon Powers (2013 MLS rookie of the year whom Pareja drafted to Colorado) last year. (Powers) did very well in school and he’s honest, smart, and quick to learn. That facilitates things with the soccer side. (Akindele) is the same way.” Pareja credited Kohlenstien for challenging his star player. “He did an excellent job with Tesho. To awaken that capacity to absorb that information from other leagues and understand he can learn, and challenge him to get better on the field, off the field.” The learning process continues for Akindele, who has struck up a special bond with Panamanian Blas Perez, a veteran forward who has been through his share of battles for club and country. “Blas has been a big help on the field," Akindele said. "His work ethic at his age, he’s always working hard and both sides, playing defense and never giving up on a play, getting rebounds. I try and do what he does.” Do you think Akindele is ready for a shot with the U.S. national team? Think he will represent the Red, White, and Blue? Let us know below. Brooke Tunstall is an American Soccer Now contributing editor and ASN 100 panelist. You can follow him on Twitter.
September 05, 2014
September 05, 2014