Orlando City acquired Tesho Akindele from FC Dallas on Dec. 8 2018 in exchange for $100,000 of Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) in 2019 and $50,000 of General Allocation Money (GAM) in 2020. The Lions gave him a contract extension on July 10, 2020 with two one-year options for 2022 and 2023. It should be remembered that Akindele worked with Óscar Pareja previously at FC Dallas.
Prior to the 2021 season, Orlando City signed Alexandre Pato with the idea he would start in place of Daryl Dike, who was on loan with Barnsley FC in the English Championship League. Unfortunately, Pato was injured in the very first match, and wouldn’t return until nearly the end of the season. Rookie Derek Dodson was sent on loan to Hartford Athletic in the USL Championship. That left Matheus Aias and Akindele as the only remaining strikers.
Akindele wasn’t expected to be “the man”, or even start that many matches for the Lions, but the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and they did for Orlando City in 2021.
Let’s take a look at the forward’s 2021 MLS season.
Akindele played in 32 regular season matches, starting in 15 of those for 1,360 minutes. He scored three goals on 29 shots, putting 11 of those shots on target. That is a conversion rate of 10.7% and one goal per 456.7 minutes of action. That isn’t great, but Akindele is not a starter quality striker in MLS. However, he had a career-best six assists on the season, which put him third for Orlando City alongside Chris Mueller and behind Mauricio Pereyra (10), and Nani (eight).
He passed at a 78.8% rate (71.8% in the opponents half, and 92.2% in his own half), and completed four of nine long passes (44.4%). Akindele had two successful crosses and 19 key passes.
Defensively, he made 17 clearances, and four interceptions. He won four of nine tackle attempts (44.4%), 74 of 165 duels (44.8%), and 43 of 87 aerial duels (49.4%). Akindele committed 20 fouls, suffered 17 fouls, and earned one yellow card.
He also came off the bench in Orlando’s playoff game against Nashville SC, playing for 10 minutes and taking two shots that went off target.
Akindele knows Pareja’s system. He knows what Pareja wants from him within that system, and often does a lot of little things on defense or during hold-up play that some may not notice.
Akindele’s best match was the Lions’ 3-2 win over Toronto FC on June 19. He played 64 minutes, and scored the first goal of the match in the first minute of play. Akindele made a perfectly timed run to connect on a beautiful pass through traffic from Pereyra.
Akindele decided he wanted an assist to go with his goal, so in the eighth minute he provided a great ball for Nani to head in the second goal of the match.
Defensively, Akindele contributed one clearance, and passed at an 84.2% rate. He did all the little things he typically does in Pareja’s system, but he also made two goal contributions. When you combine the little things with the big things, you get a performance that earned Man of the Match honors in both the player grades from the match and from The Mane Land PawedCast.
2021 Final Grade
The Mane Land staff gave Akindele a final grade of 6 for 2021. Since he is often compared to Dike, let’s actually look at some of the differences. Despite playing in 14 more matches, he only played about 35 more minutes in the regular season compared to Dike. Akindele only managed three goals to Dike’s 10, but he provided six assists versus Dike’s three. That is a difference of four goal contributions, which isn’t too large of a gap for the third-choice striker on the team. Beyond goal contributions, Akindele did particularly well when pressing opposing players and created turnovers for the Lions to capitalize on.
Orlando City picked up Akindele’s contract option for 2022, so we know he will be here next year. Hopefully, his role with the club will be what it is supposed to be, rather than the “break glass in case of too many injuries” that it was in 2021. If Akindele is used as a backup striker that comes on late in games to provide stability or fresher legs for the starting forward, he can continue to be effective for Pareja and the Lions.