Top Stories

USMNT prospect Ayo Akinola on his national team future: I haven’t decided

Ayo Akinola didn’t arrive at the MLS is Back Tournament with very many expectations, but five goals has been enough to propel him into the conversation as one of the event’s biggest breakout stars, and also the subject of a looming national team tug-of-war.

Eligible to play for both the United States and Canada, Akinola revealed on Tuesday evening that he has yet to make a senior national team commitment, and isn’t planning on making one in the immediate future.

“I haven’t decided,” Akinola told ESPN at halftime of Tuesday night’s broadcast of the Atlanta United-Columbus Crew match. “I feel like I’m still at a younger age, so I feel like there shouldn’t be any pressure of even deciding. I should weigh up all options, and just see the pros and cons of each country.”

Earlier on Tuesday, U.S. Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter revealed that he has spoken to Akinola, but not as part of some recruiting pitch.

“Ayo, I I spoke to him and I said, ‘Man, this is a fantastic thing you’re going through. I’m so happy for you. You’re performing, you score all these goals. I go enjoy it’,” Berhalter said. “Don’t think about anything else. Just enjoy the form you’re in. Not many players get that.

“We were just talking about the tournament, and what I can improve on, just in my game, from the two games he’s seen in this tournament,” Akinola said of his conversation with Berhalter.

The USMNT coach expressed confidence in Akinola ultimately sticking with the United States given his lengthy track record as part of the U.S. youth national team setup.

“Again, this is a guy as similar to Sergino (Dest), that was raised in our youth national team program,” Berhalter said. “Goes from Under-17 player, Under-20 player and adds a lot to our program. He was going to be on the Under-20 World Cup team if he didn’t get injured before that. He was a big part of that team and what they were doing.

“We consider him part of our program and that means most likely the next stage for him could be the U-23s, the Olympics, and then potentially the senior national team,” Berhalter said. “Things that hopefully he’ll be a part of as he continues to perform at a high level.”

As impressed as Berhalter has been with Akinola’s play at the MLS is Back Tournament, he tried tempering some of the growing hype around the young Toronto FC striker, who is currently tied for the tournament lead with five goals.

“We’re talking about three games each and we’re saying ‘This is a senior national team player’,” Berhalter said. “We just have to be careful. We have to give these guys time to grow. We have to let them enjoy this period.”

Akinola echoed similar sentiments, making it clear he isn’t trying to spend much time thinking about his national team future, choosing instead to enjoy his outstanding run of form in Orlando.

“Thinking of the national team and (the MLS is Back) tournament, i think it just creates too much havoc,” Akinola said. “I feel like I just should focus on one thing, and then the next thing after.”


  1. Clamoring over a guy who has had just 3 good professional games really shows how desperate we are for a striker. The options at that position are really uninspiring. Reality is we are going to have to rely heavily on pulisic to do it all for the time being.

    • America is like every other country. We have players, who are capable of contributing, but aren’t being called in. We have players abroad, who are unproven. Catch 22. When has there ever been a time, when the fan base wasn’t excited about youth prospects? (Never!) Ayo has been playing RW, opposite Weah, and off of Sargents & Soto’s right shoulder for almost 6 years. Fans of these teams, have been w8tin for a breakout, meaning, “1st team minutes & goals, and good health!” Sure, it’s a sample size, but it’s a nice start for Ayo! De la Fuente doesn’t start ‘19 U20 WC, if Ayo is healthy. The forward depth, or lack there of, I think, is exaggerated. Catch 22. We have enough strikers to play any & every formation. Versatility of the late 90s babies is insane, for instance. Sargent, Weah, & Ayo can play CF/9, RW, LW, and a false 9. Coach Hackworth & Ramos proved this to be true!! CP has already proven to me, he can’t go 1 v 5. He needs help!

      • What I think is promising is that Ayo’s movement on and off the ball has looked much better. As a youth he really relied on his athleticism. Once you become a pro that’s not good enough. A lot of youth players are never able to make that adjustment. It’s a small sample but it looks like Ayo is heading in the right direction. It sounds like Jozy has really been working with him and after a trial with PSV in the past I think Euro clubs will be inquiring soon.

    • Julian Green QED. But y’all hate him too. Apparently we hate the idea a player might contribute to the national team but not fulfill our club snobbery. We have a strong player on the team — Morris — straight from college. There is zero need or requirement that they make a pro veteran status before we bring them in. And at some point people might note that Mr. Slow To Give Chances is also Mr. We Look Like Heck. That maybe he is not tapped into some cosmic brilliant sense of how this should go. To me first team Klinsi had the best talent eye we have had lately, and he would take people off college, USL, foreign youth teams. Not sure what’s wrong with a coach trusting his eye over some club coach who may be fired in a few games.

      • Julian Green had 15 g and 8 a in the Regionaliga, Ayo had 1 goal last season in the USL League One. Jordan Morris was the Herman Award winner for the National Champions these aren’t the same situation. If Akinola continues scoring regularly he’ll get a call up if he keeps scoring 5 g every three matches it will be much sooner. Andrew Carleton was the best player in that U17 team but he’s loaned out to Indy in the USL does he get a call up in the YTs.

      • That’s a lame ad absurdum argument, Carleton disappeared as a senior pro. In theory he might have been on a decent trajectory, but Akinola is not just U20 pipeline but also producing as a senior. And then to me the creme of the crop sitting in elite European youth systems should be assessed on a sliding scale. it means something different to be Atlanta youth vs Dortmund youth.

  2. Now there’s an interesting choice. 5 goals in a few games this season. Already was a pipeline kid. Berhalter of course waits on first team form for everyone which only makes the stakes obvious to all interested teams. It doesn’t help this sort of thing when you play along with fence sitters like Dest and what should be “do you want it” becomes a leverage opportunity where we almost encourage them to feign interest in someone else like a free agent. Behalter also doesn’t really sell us well with Maybe Olympics Maybe We’ll See After That. Canada will not be this lukewarm. To me you win the joust and then worry about whether he’s any good or how he fits in.

    • Last season he had 1 goal in USL League One (3rd tier) in over 500 mins. It wasn’t because he wasn’t getting first team minutes he was doing anything in the third division either. He did have 7 g in U20 qualifying but 5 came against Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, Suriname. It’s delusional to say that he should have been capped. He’d be the 5th or 6th choice at Forward for Canada, today, so it’s not like they’ve got a great sales pitch. Nigeria’s top 3 are the 3rd choice at Leicester, a starter for Lille, and a starter in Belgium so playing time for Nigeria isn’t there automatically either.

    • Any guy who dubs himself imperative and then consistently delivers pure speculation based on “his truth” is a regular Don Lemon.

      National teams don’t throw themselves at Akinola’s, and then decide later whether they’re good enough.

      “Canada will not be this luke warm” – what should we do imperative, shake in our boots? Cower in fear? Get a grip man.

      • Actually, Klinsmann put Morris out there from college, Pulisic out there when he was barely on the Dortmund first team, and Green when he was a Munich youth player. There is no rule whatsoever that says we have to wait until it’s obvious what their pro future holds, particularly for the most promising players like, say, Reyna. We can anticipate. No reason we have to take second place to the pro clubs in figuring out a player has talent. To me it’s lazy scouting to wait until they are 24 with an obvious track record. Any idiot would have that scouted.

    • First, we have no idea of just what Berhalter said. They could both be leaving out important parts of their conversation for any number of reasons. Second, he has come up through our youth system, so he is already acquainted with our set up and Berhalter would have been keeping tabs on him anyway. Third, which national team is more likely to go to a World Cup–Canada or the US? Fourth, we got Dest even though Holland made a strong appeal for him. Finally, we don’t know if we will want or need him in the future since we really don’t know how good he is at a high level. To use a baseball analogy, when I was a kid there was this hitter in Triple A baseball (Steve Bilko) who routinely hit 50 homers and over 100 RBI’s. He was so feared that once he was intentionally walked with the bases loaded (true fact). However, although given a number of opportunities, he couldn’t make it in the majors because he couldn’t hit major league pitching. Triple A pitching he feasted on, but he couldn’t handle that next step up.

      • Exactly, look at Mason Toye he had 5g and 2a between 6/19/19 and 7/21/19 in seven matches. In his other 47 pro matches he has 4 g and 0 a. We’ll see how teams adjust now that they have film on him. Lletget in that he put up huge numbers his first month in the league before settling into being a steady but not superstar player. So for most young players you are going to follow the development path U17, U20, U23. You’ll have exceptions like Reyna and Pulisic that start playing top league football before age 20, but you can’t force other players that are in the USL into that path especially if it’s only because they have other eligibility.

      • All due respect but the only reason some players like Zardes stay on the team is supposed club form. And then some who belong there like Wood and Horvath disappear for want of club minutes. OK, merely applying the heuristic, why are we not giving a 10 minute cameo chance to someone on a hot streak who was already in our U20 system???

      • OK, so we ignore what he does today in the first division because yesterday on a development team he was a work in progress. That’s basically self refuting. “We know it works in practice, but did it work in theory??” Pfft

Leave a Comment