Ayo Akinola is having himself one heck of a tournament.
The 18-year-old Toronto FC Homegrown striker has been on international duty with the American side at the Concacaf U-20 Championship in Bradenton, Florida.
Having topped Group A in the initial group stage with five-straight wins, Akinola and his teammates continued that form throughout the second round with two additional victories and will now look to complete a perfect tournament when they face Mexico in the final on Wednesday – kickoff at 7 p.m. streamed on ConcacafGo.
“So far, so good,” said Akinola via phone from Florida on Tuesday. “Our first and ultimate [goal] was to qualify for the World Cup; we achieved that. Now, we look ahead to the future: win this whole tournament and defend our title.”
The U.S. side have already assured themselves a spot in Poland next May when the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup kicks off, now a stern test against their eternal rivals, Mexico, awaits.
En route to the final Akinola, who has seven goals thus far, has been filling his boots. He netted twice in a 7-1 defeat of Puerto Rico, added a single in a 13-0 thrashing of U.S. Virgin Islands, and closed the group stage with another brace in a 7-0 win over Suriname
Whether from open-play or on set-pieces, with his head or his feet, Akinola refused to take any credit for his prolific output.
“They're all collective goals,” demurred Akinola. “I wouldn't have gotten [them] without my teammates providing service, so I credit the whole team for the goals I've been scoring.”
Come the qualification stage, with places at the World Cup and the final at stake, Akinola registered in both matches, netting the fourth in a 4-0 defeat of Costa Rica and then nabbing the sole strike in a 1-0 win over Honduras.
“It was kind of a lucky shot,” admitted Akinola of his game-winner. “I didn't hit it the way I wanted to, but a goal is a goal. As long as it's in the back of the net, that's all that matters.”
Tied for second in the golden boot race, trailing only Mexican forward, Jose Macias – from Chivas Guadalajara no less – who, has 10, including a four-goal performance against Aruba, that Akinola has been so consistent in a gruelling competition speaks highly of his continued progress.
The U.S. began play on November 1. Come the final, they will have crammed eight games into those three weeks.
In such testing times, “Recovery is the key,” according to Akinola.
“There are so many teams, so many games; very minimal rest days. Literally: game-rest, game-rest, game-rest,” detailed Akinola. “Recovery and treatment have been a huge factor to our success.”
His first season in MLS under his belt, Akinola said being tested at that level every single day has most helped him raise his game.
“Just training with pros: the speed and the tempo, how quick and clean they are, how sharp they are,” explained Akinola. “It makes me read the game a lot faster.”
One more game to go, does he have another goal in him?
“Team first,” stressed Akinola. “Hopefully, if I get my chance, I'll be sure to capitalize.”