SANFORD, Fla. — Orlando City forward Tesho Akindele is confident he’s playing some of the best soccer of his career.
Akindele, the 2014 MLS Rookie of the Year, already has two goals so far in his first season the Lions, matching his scoring output from the 2018 season, which he spent with FC Dallas. He’s already earned the respect of his new coach – James O’Connor called Akindele the most “probably the underrated player in MLS.”
“I think a combination of a lot of things,” Akindele said about what’s contributed to his success so far. “I feel like I’m a guy who comes out and trains hard every day. I think the coaches have definitely shown that they believe in me, but then I think I’m also surrounded by a lot of good players and that obviously helps make my job a lot easier, too.”
He’s contributing to an attack that’s looking to be more balanced than it was toward the end of the last season. O’Connor said the team is striving to be unpredictable in its attacking approach.
“I think we’ve got, I’d say a good variation,” O’Connor said. “I think when you look at, you know, whether it’s size, whether it’s speed, whether it’s got players who can play multiple, maybe drop a little bit deeper.”
O’Connor has switched up Orlando City’s lineups from match to match this season. He’s wanted to ensure there are still attacking threats able to come in off the bench, which has led to players like Akindele, star striker Dom Dwyer and second-year forward Chris Mueller coming off the bench.
Akindele has made six appearances (five starts) for the Lions (3-3-3, 12 points). Orlando City is poised to start a tough stretch when it hosts Toronto FC (4-2-1, 13 points) on Saturday.
“Obviously, I’d rather start every match, but I think that’s just the reality of the game,” Akindele said. “We have a deep team. We’re fighting for spots every day. Everybody is in the same positions as I am. It’s tough, but it’s just the job, you know?”
Five different players have scored for Orlando City in 2019. Star winger Nani leads the team with five goals, Dwyer has three, Akindele and Mueller have two and midfielder Sacha Kljestan has one.
Orlando City has gotten four goals and four assists from players who have come on as subs so far this season. The Lions are tied for third place in the Eastern Conference with 13 goals scored and haven’t been held scoreless once this season.
“There’s some people who like to come in and receive the ball at their feet, we have other people who like to get in behind, we have people who are fast, we have people who like to battle physically,” Akindele said.
“I think we do have a lot of different options. That kind of speaks to also when they’re talking about coming off the bench. I think you can throw in certain guys that offer some things then sub someone who offers something completely different and just throw the other team’s defense off.”
Akindele said he got used to coming on as a sub while playing for FC Dallas.
“It’s all about a positive attitude,” Akindele said. “You don’t want to be sulking on the bench, because you’re going to come in and just kind of ruin it for everybody. If you’re on the bench, you have to come in and make everything easier for everyone else.”