Minus the obvious highlight of Nani stepping onto the Orlando City Stadium pitch for his first minutes, the new Lion with the standout performance of Saturday’s game had to be Tesho Akindele. He managed to put his first ever shot as a Lion into the back of the net, thanks in part to an assist from fellow striker Dom Dwyer, who had only been in the match for about five minutes, securing the draw in the process. What a way to introduce himself to the Orlando City faithful.
Unfortunately, soon after scoring his goal, Akindele had to be subbed off due to some cramping from going all-out for the previous 75 minutes. While we may have to wait until this week’s match against the Chicago Fire to see some more of it, the few minutes we did get of Dwyer and Akindele up top together looked excellent. Akindele is a big, strong, fast center forward, and with Dwyer being the smart, talented striker that he is, the two fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. If Dwyer has the ball and and can provide his usual aggressive hold-up play, he can then get his head up to see what channel Akindele is running in behind the defense and lay it off for him — almost exactly as he did last Saturday.
Likewise, Akindele running the channels and constantly being a nuisance for defenders means that Dwyer will have more opportunities in the box to get to a cross put in by Nani or Chris Mueller. Our own Bearded Guy put it best: We now have a “consistent threat up top as a true striker behind” Dwyer. Akindele said after Saturday’s game that the offense is working well for the most part but must be more clinical to take all three points.
“I thought we had a lot of possession. I thought we created a decent amount of chances,” he said of the 2-2 draw vs. New York City FC. “Next time, we probably just need to make sure we finish them, especially early in the game.”
The only issue I see with the budding Akindele-Dwyer partnership isn’t Akindele’s not-so-impressive 2018 stats as an FC Dallas bench warmer, like many others have been quick to point out since his signing back in December. Rather, I believe the thing that might stand in the way is none other than Orlando City Head Coach James O’Connor. In order for the pairing to work as best as it can, the top four players will need to constantly include Nani on the left wing, Mueller on the right, and Akindele and Dwyer as forwards. Of course, it’s still super early in the 2019 season and the preseason isn’t usually that telling, but O’Connor hasn’t shown a lot of stability in his lineups during his time as leader of the Lions. He’s actually demonstrated the opposite so far, though I think we all feel that he still doesn’t have a full squad of “his” players.
Time will tell if the club can find the much-needed cohesion that it has lacked since debuting in Major League Soccer. No matter what, I’m quite certain that if Dwyer contributes 15 goals with eight assists and Akindele adds another 10 goals with five assists this season, numbers that are well within their respective wheelhouses, Orlando City will have a real shot at finally making it to the playoff promised land.