SANFORD, Fla. — During just three games with Orlando City, forward Tesho Akindele has already matched his goal-scoring total from last season.
Akindele was acquired from FC Dallas in exchange for $100,000 of Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) in 2019 and $50,000 of General Allocation Money (GAM) in 2020. He scored two goals in 2018, both in the same game against Atlanta United.
His hot start to 2019 was derailed somewhat by a hamstring injury. He came up limping after his match-tying goal against NYCFC in the season opener, but he started the Lions’ second match against the Chicago Fire on March 9. He came off in the 21st minute of that match and missed the next three before he could start again.
“I feel really good,” he said Wednesday. “Credit to our training staff. They had a plan for me from the beginning. They worked me slowly and, you know, they just built me back up to where I feel confident and, yeah, I feel normal right now.
He added, “It was super frustrating. Kind of talking to the other guys who had been injured – because that probably the first time in my career I’ve ever been injured – and it’s just like, there’s no good time for an injury. It felt like, ‘Oh, that’s the worst time for an injury, because I had momentum.’ They were like, ‘Whether you have momentum or not, there’s no good time for an injury.’ It was frustrating, but that’s the nature of an injury.”
Akindele returned Saturday against the Colorado Rapids and picked up where he left off. He scored his second goal of the season off a rebound. The initial shot came from Dom Dwyer. Akindele’s first goal of the season came off an assist from Dwyer.
“I feel like we have players who complement each other,” Akindele said. “I like to get in behind. Maybe Dom likes to battle more with defenders, so I think we have a good thing. Maybe Sacha [Kljestan] and Chris [Mueller] like to come in for the ball. So, I think we have a lot of players who complement each other’s strengths.”
Akindele’s connection with his teammates – particularly Mueller – was evident during the team’s preseason scrimmages. He and Mueller linked up for multiple goals during preseason and spoke about how their friendship grew during the team’s camp at IMG Academy in Bradenton.
Akindele assisted on Mueller’s match-tying goal against the Colorado Rapids in a game the Lions would go on to win.
“I think what me and Chris have is unique,” he said. “I mean, he’s just such a special player, man. I just give him the ball and he can dribble [around] three people and score a goal. The goal, I had a little touch and he took a great touch to finish it. I think we have a good combination, but there’s a lot of credit that goes to him.”
Last season, the lack of depth at striker was something coach James O’Connor said would be addressed in the offseason. The Lions have a host of strikers now – rookies Santiago Patiño and Benji Michel have already seen playing time this season – and Akindele said there’s competition for a chance to start.
“It’s very competitive, but just in, like, a super-friendly way,” he said. “I mean, we all want each other to get better, but we all want to be the best and want to be the starter. It’s like a friendly competition.”
Akindele was the first acquisition the team announced in the offseason.
“For me, I think Tesho is probably – I would go as far as to say – he’s probably the most underrated player in MLS,” O’Connor said. “I really think this boy is an excellent, excellent player. So, for us, I think to have somebody like that, to have been able to bring him in is really a big plus for us.
“I think it’s not just his ability to score goals. His brain, his work ethic, I think there’s numerous things that we look at. We’ve been really, really pleased with Tesho.”
Centerback/defensive midfielder Carlos Ascues suffered a hamstring injury during Orlando City’s 4-3 win over Colorado and is still being evaluated.
“I don’t think he’ll be involved this weekend, but we just have to manage that,” O’Connor said.
Centerback Alex De John remains out with a hamstring injury.