With five goals in three games in the MLS is Back Tournament, Ayo Akinola is flourishing in domestic soccer. But internationally, he has a big decision to make. Will he choose the USMNT or the CanMNT?
Filling in for Jozy Altidore, Ayo Akinola has taken this new opportunity by the horns. Whether it be his intelligent runs, brilliant and brutal physicality, or poise on the ball, he has been nothing short of incredible for Toronto FC. In particular, his hat-trick against the Montreal Impact stands out as one in which you could see his true potential.
And the young striker is yet to commit to a national team, something that U.S. Men’s National Team fans know all too well. So, with plenty of options on the table, let’s consider which Akinola might end up choosing should his explosive rise through the senior ranks continue.
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Ultimately, Akinola will likely settle on playing for the United States, where he was born and has played for internationally, and Canada, where he has since lived. His most recent international experience was with the USMNT at the U-17 World Cup. He has spoken highly of his experience in the U.S. Youth Soccer Ranks and has been in touch with USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter at the MLS Is Back Tournament.
He will also likely be influenced by his Toronto FC teammates Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Omar Gonzalez to join the U.S. program. However, the national team has talent to overcome and earn a starting role. Jozy Altidore, Gyasi Zardes, Josh Sargent, Jeremy Ebobisse, Timothy Weah, Tyler Boyd, and Jesus Ferreira all represent different levels of competition for Akinola to consider.
Altidore and Zardes likely won’t play much of a factor in Akinola’s playing time due to their age but all of the other players mentioned, as well as Jordan Morris, who can play as a striker, could impact his chances of regular national team appearances. That’s a lot of young competition who will challenge him for the starting striker spot with the USMNT.
Conversely, Akinola has lived in Canada since he was one. He grew up in the Canadian Soccer leagues. He plays for a Canadian team with multiple Canadian National Team players. There are plenty of links to the CanMNT that may take him away from the U.S.’ grasp.
There is also a greater path to regular playing time. Lucas Cavallini, Tesho Akindele, Antony Jackson-Hamel, and Tosaint Ricketts are all either in the prime of their career or on the backside of it. Meanwhile, Cyle Larin is 25 and has only had one solid season, Takon Buchanan is still very young and can play on the wing, while Jonathon David looks to be a bit more of a number 10 than a center-forward.
It remains to be seen which Akinola will choose, but he will not be rushed on an extremely important decision. As he said in an interview via TSN in 2018:
“I’m still discussing (it) with my family Because I feel like it’s a really big (decision) … It’s a one-time switch so you can’t switch back. I’m still young. No time to rush. But at some point, I’m going to have to make a decision which one is the best fit for me.”
It will take some major lobbying from both Gregg Berhalter and John Herdman if they want him to become a key contributor for their squads. Ultimately, however, it is Akinola’s choice, and while the time to decide is sooner rather than later, his final decision is not yet known.