With three goals in preseason action, Ifunanyachi Achara has impressed since linking up with Toronto FC in California.
Selected 25th-overall in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft, the 22-year-old Nigerian forward from Georgetown University was signed on Friday.
“It means everything,” said Achara. “I've been working all my life for this, so having made the team it's amazing. I was drafted and it was awesome, but then coming in, knowing I'm part of the team, that's incredible. I'm so excited.”
Achara originally joined the team during the preseason stint in Orlando, Florida, but a bout of the flu meant it wasn’t until the scene shifted to Los Angeles that he really got a chance to stretch his legs.
He netted in his debut against UC Irvine, then again days later in a losing effort against LAFC – a deft chip over the keeper – and once more against the LA Galaxy in a 2-1 TFC win – a confident finish off a back-heel from Justin Morrow.
It isn’t just the goals that have him catching Greg Vanney’s eye.
“Achara stands out as a guy who has come from the college scene and fits,” said the coach. “His skill set fits into our group, his confidence, the way he plays the game and the speed at which he plays really suits us. He's a smart kid, picks up things tactically very quickly. Even within games, when we adapt he picks things up quickly. He's got a nice maturity level.”
One can never be too sure how a player will transition from college to MLS, but Toronto had an inkling of what Achara could offer.
“I don't know if ‘a surprise’ is right,” rejected Vanney. “We were optimistic that he was a kid with high talent that just had a couple unfortunate injuries in college. He's shown that he is that talented young man that we were hoping for; he's been really interesting.”
Comfortable attacking from both flanks and centrally, Achara, asked where he saw himself fitting in, said: “Anywhere they want. I want to work hard.”
With friendly faces, both familiar and new, he’s settled nicely into the group.
“Like I said talking to the team, I felt welcome the first time I walked in,” relayed Achara. “The guys were really nice, I felt at home. It took away some of the pressure, that I need to prove myself and all that.”
“They made me feel like I'm a good player,” he continued. “And being around so many good players made me so much better. This month has been really difficult, working hard and being sick, missing Florida, but then coming in and having the impact that I did was awesome.”
Both Jozy Altidore and Richie Laryea made particular impacts.
“I've looked up to Jozy all my life. I watched him so many times with the [US] National Team,” said Achara. “Being on the same team with him, that's like, ‘wow.’”
“In practice, when I make good plays, he gives me compliments; tells me what to do. He said not to be afraid to talk to him, gave me a lot of advice,” he continued. “Also Richie was awesome. The first day he talked me through it because he was also drafted, told about his experience at Orlando and then Toronto.”
But in Jacob Shaffelburg, Achara is reunited with an old friend.
“When I got drafted, I texted him,” said the forward. “A familiar face, I felt like I'm going back to play for Berkshire School or Black Rock FC – we played on the same high school and club team.”
“So when I came here I had someone that I knew,” Achara added. “I could rely on him, ask questions and, with his experience, he made me feel at home.”