On Sunday, Orlando City acquired Tesho Akindele in exchange for a total of $150,000 in allocation money. There is little downside to this move, and Akindele checks off important boxes for the Lions. With all the attacking troubles in 2018, Orlando has nothing to lose from this move.
Akindele is a 26-year-old attacker with 133 MLS games under his belt. The Lions ended the 2018 season with no natural left winger, and the Canadian can fill that void. But, there are likely more reinforcements on the way.
Playing in James O’Connor’s 3-4-3, Akindele would be a perfect fit playing to the left of Dom Dwyer. He will likely take on a bench role for most of the season, but that all depends on who else Orlando signs. The Calgary native has the skill set to be a force in the league, and that must be why O’Connor and company brought him in.
Yet, stats don’t lie, and Tesho has regressed almost every year since he joined the league. In his rookie year of 2014, Akindele played in 26 games (18 starts), found the back of the net seven times, and provided three assists to capture MLS Rookie of the Year. In 2016, he matched his rookie total in goals plus assists, scoring six goals and adding four assists in 31 appearances (15 starts). The most worrisome number is that he only made five starts last season.
So, while he passes the “eye test,” his numbers do not show anything exceptional. Last season, the Lions took a chance on Stefano Pinho. It was a low-risk, potentially high-reward signing that never paid off. Akindele is in the same boat now.
Tesho is not a flashy player, and most of his goals are from close range. To get him going, it will be essential to have good link-up play. The combinations between him, Dom, and the midfielders will be vital for Akindele to be successful. When playing on the wing, watch for Tesho to cut inside, play one-twos, and create space for others.
The Canadian is a project for the Lions. O’Connor will need to mold him into the system and introduce him slowly. There will be a learning curve, but there is little downfall with this move. Worst-case scenario, he is added depth that is more talented than any other forward on the current roster, save for Dwyer. If the plan works out, then Akindele revives his career and takes some goal-scoring pressure off Dwyer’s back.
This is by no means a solution to Orlando’s attacking problems, but it is a start. This is the type of move Orlando that should be making this off-season. The Lions still need to make many more player transactions, including one or two high-profile players, but Akindele is a good start.