Tesho Akindele has proven to be one of the shrewdest buys in MLS this season. The Canadian international was acquired for no more than $150,000 in allocation money in the off-season ($100,000 in 2019 Targeted Allocation Money and $50,000 in 2020 General Allocation Money) and has already hit a career high in a number of categories.
Saturday’s victory over FC Dallas proved to be momentous for a number of reasons. Not only did it help set the team back on course as playoff contenders, but it was also the first time the Lions had even scored against the Texas team, let alone win. The first Orlando City player to ever breach the Dallas defense ironically still sits as Dallas’ 10th all-time goal scorer.
Akindele scored 29 times for Dallas across five seasons, winning the MLS Rookie of the Year title in 2014, before an off-season move to Central Florida in December 2018. His ninth goal for the Lions, and eighth in the league, ranks as a career high and he now leads Orlando across all competitions and is tied with Designated Player Nani for league goals.
Present Akindele vs. Past Akindele
But it’s not just the goals that Akindele is hitting a career best in. He has played 1,374 minutes across 19 MLS appearances this season, averaging out at a career-high 72.3 minutes per appearance. His next highest is the 67.2 minutes per appearance he managed in his 26-game rookie year, while last year he played a record low 577 mins in 19 appearances — an average of 30.4 minutes per appearance.
Akindele has found the back of the net every 171.8 minutes, also a career-best pace. His most productive year in Dallas was again 2014 as a rookie, when he averaged a goal every 249.7 minutes, while he hit a career-low in 2017, taking an average 377.8 minutes to find the back of the net with four total goals in 1,511 minutes.
However, Akindele’s rich goal-scoring vein isn’t a product of getting more opportunities, with the forward currently also topping his previous best shot conversion rate. He has scored eight goals on 28 shots for an impressive shot-to-goal conversion rate of 28.6%. His next best was last season, converting 25% of his shot attempts, but that was only from a career-low eight shots, of which he scored from two. He had a 23.3% conversion rate in his rookie year but finished below 20% in each of the following three seasons.
Even the statistics he hasn’t hit a career best in yet this year are trending positively. His minutes-per-shot count is sitting at 49.1 minutes, second only behind his 2016 campaign when he averaged a strike every 43.3 minutes. Last year saw him hit a career-low of 72.1 minutes per attempt. Meanwhile, Akindele’s shot accuracy is also at the second-best level of his six-year career at 53.6% — better than all but his anomalous 87.5% shot accuracy on his lowly eight shots last season — with his career average before then at 51.3%.
Akindele vs. MLS
It’s not just his own seasons where the forward is finding favorable comparisons either. Akindele’s numbers keep pace with the great and good of MLS. At the time of this writing, 25 total players have scored a minimum of eight goals in league play in 2019. His 171.8 minutes per goal sits close to the 164.5 average, with Akindele sitting just ahead of teammate Nani and one spot behind Wayne Rooney in 15th. Of the top 25, New England midfielder Carles Gil takes the longest, with a goal every 269 minutes, whereas Carlos Vela is the only player to average better than a goal every 90 minutes. Akindele’s 49.1 minutes per shot, despite being the second-highest strike rate of his career, is at the bottom of the pile and some way off the average 31.6 minutes. Vela unsurprisingly tops the pile, with the LAFC forward averaging a shot every 17.1 minutes.
Where Orlando City’s forward really shines is in his efficiency. Only Toronto FC and USMNT forward Jozy Altidore can boast a better shot accuracy among the top 25 scorers, hitting the target 58.1% of the time compared to Akindele’s 53.6%. Meanwhile, Nani sits tied in third with New York City FC’s Heber at 50%. The average is 43.1%.
Only Real Salt Lake’s Sam Johnson, New York Red Bulls striker Brian White, and Altidore have a better shot conversion rate than Akindele, who sits fourth on the list, with his 28.6% a healthy way ahead of the 20.1% average. While Johnson leads the way with an impressive 38.1% of shots becoming goals, Houston Dynamo’s Mauro Manotas is at the bottom of the pile at 11.9%.
Akindele vs. Larin
It’s not the first time Orlando has had a Canadian leading the line. Cyle Larin, who was named Rookie of the Year a year after Akindele, remains Orlando City’s all-time leading goal scorer and had the two highest single-season goal totals for the club in his first two years.
So, how do Akindele’s numbers in purple compare to his national teammate’s? Larin averaged 75.1 minutes per appearance — only marginally more than Akindele’s 72.3 — but his 151.9 minutes per goal is significantly better than Akindele’s 171.8 and is the same pace that LAFC’s Diego Rossi finds himself on this season. Larin’s Orlando career average of a shot every 34 minutes is also better than Akindele’s 49.1. But once again, it is Akindele’s efficiency on the smaller number of chances where he shines, with his 53.6% shot accuracy and 28.6% shot-to-goal conversion rate better than Larin’s 49% and 22.4%, respectively.
So, there you have it, despite Orlando City not creating a comparatively large number of chances, Akindele has seemingly surpassed Designated Player Dom Dwyer as the Lions’ first-choice striker thanks to a career-high level of finishing that rivals the best in the league at the moment.