10214_isi_akalemukwelle_isida120212425 John Dorton/isiphotos.com
Sciaretta's Scouting Report

U.S. Teen Mukwelle Akale Could Land at Villarreal

The diminutive 17-year-old attacker has demonstrated big-time talent for multiple U.S. youth national teams, and appears to be on his way to La Liga power Villarreal.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
October 02, 2014
2:53 PM
EMERSON HYNDMAN IS MAKING a name for himself at Fulham, Rubio Rubin has settled in nicely at Utrecht, and the next American teenager to make a splash overseas could be Mukwelle Akale, who is on the verge of joining Spain's Villarreal.

Akale, one of the top players on the U-18 national team and the top player in his age group according to Top Drawer Soccer, trained with Villarreal’s U-19 team during preseason and made a positive impression.

“Getting invited to go play preseason with them was obviously amazing,” Akale told American Soccer Now. “When I went over, I was expecting everyone to have a better understanding of the game than me–a quicker understanding and being faster with their minds. When I got there, I felt that this was where I was supposed to be. I matched their level.

"It was just a perfect fit—like a puzzle piece.”

“In Spain it is more technical," he added. "The speed of play, keeping the ball on the ground–it’s my kind of style. I’m not a very big player but all that went perfectly for my style. I felt our team was really good for a U-19 team. What set it apart was not just the coaching but the style of a play. They play with everyone moving as a team. A more possession type—attacking and getting back and defending. I just fell in love with it right away.”

Akale impressed during his time at Villarreal and the club wanted the Minneapolis native to return for another stint. He spent most of the second half of September in Spain and will return again in January. Due to FIFA rules, he is unable to sign with a European club until he turns 18—which he will on January 18, 2015.

In Spain there are few roster spaces available for players who don't have European Union passports or certain African passports. Akale is attempting to obtain a Cameroonian passport through his father but Villarreal’s interest in him is significant whether or not he gets it.

While all decisions regarding his future at Villarreal will be formally made once he turns 18, Akale is determined to begin his career in Europe.

“Abroad is always what I wanted to do,” Akale said. “Because when people talk about soccer, everyone thinks about the European teams like Barcelona and all the big teams. They don’t really think of MLS. Ever since I was younger, I always watched teams from Spain which was my favorite league. To end up there to play is very nice.”

Akale is just one of many young American players who now are either now in Europe or appear likely to make the move. In addition to Rubio and Hyndman, Christian Pulisic is set to join Borussia Dortmund, Junior Flores is at Borussia Dortmund, Russell Canouse is at Hoffenheim, Danny Barbir is at West Bromwich, Haji Wright is reportedly joining Schalke, and Juventus has been after Sporting Kansas City’s Erik Palmer-Brown for most of this year. These are all teenage players who are consistent contributors to U.S. youth national teams.

Akale has represented the United States at the U-14, U-15, U-17, and U-18 levels. He insists that his international career with U.S. teams have been crucial in his development. He is on the small side—around five-foot-four—thrives in either the No. 10 role or as a supporting striker. He will almost surely be part of the 2017 U-20 World Cup but could potentially make a push for the 2015 U-20 World Cup.

In August, Akale stepped into the spotlight after helping the U.S. U-18s go undefeated in the Vaclav Jezek Tournament in the Czech Republic, with wins over Hungary, Czech Republic, and Ukraine. Akale was named the tournament’s MVP after scoring the only goal in the United States' 1-0 win over Ukraine in the finals.

Real Salt Lake homegrown product Sebastian Saucedo has also been an integral part of the U.S. U-18 national team and he enjoyed a strong tournament in the Czech Republic. In the U.S. team’s 3-2 win over the host Czechs, Saucedo scored a goal and picked up an assist. Like many players of his age group, he has a very high opinion of Akale and what he can accomplish.

“To be honest, he's probably the best attacking player I have ever played with,” Saucedo said. “He's the next generation of Rubio Rubins and Emerson Hyndmans. He's probably the best player. He's just super technical. He's so smart and he knows what he is going to do as soon as he receives the ball. He plays a big role on our U-18 team—being the captain and motivating us to be the best team.”

“I see him playing at the 2018 World Cup,” he added. “He probably should be playing with the U-20s right now. He's such a smart player. Even though he's little in height, he has what it takes to take on a player who is six-foot tall.”

Akale also earned tournament MVP honors in February when the U.S. U-18 team played the likes of Spain, Argentina, and the Canary Islands.

“What really helped (my development) was the national team trips to play international competition,” Akale explained. “I remember my first one did not go very well because I was overwhelmed by the international competition. But as you kept doing it, all my friends and I from the national team, we all stepped up our game. Our ’97 age group is looking really good.”

Orlando City homegrown defender Tommy Reading is also part of that age group and his friendship with Akale dates back to their days at the U-17 residency program. He knows that as tournaments such as the 2016 Olympics, 2017 U-20 World Cup, and 2018 World Cup draw closer, he is confident his generation will make an impact.

“I think our age group is very strong,” Redding said. “A lot of the players in our age group have already found the perfect development environment for themselves and I think that is a huge plus for us. I think right now Mukwelle is easily one of the best players in the country at our age.

"He is an amazing technical player. His touch is always perfect and he keeps the ball close to his feet while dribbling. It makes it very difficult to take the ball away from him even though he is a small player.”

For now Akale is enjoying what will likely be his final months of living in the United States before he makes the move to Villarreal. His education is very important to him and he is in his final year of high school—which he will finish online should he formally join Villarreal.

As for his shorter-term goals, they revolve almost entirely on Villarreal and making his mark in La Liga— a place where few Americans have found success.

“In a year," Akale said, "I would like to at least be training with the first team and maybe even getting some first-team minutes. But what I am focused on right now is just getting to train with the first team to see how it is—if there is any big difference in levels and what I need to work on and how fast the professionals play would be nice to see.”

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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