Short on strikers, Orlando City is depending on Tesho Akindele to produce. On Saturday night against FC Cincinnati, the veteran showed that he can provide what the team needs but he has to be more consistent.
During the off-season, Orlando City sent Daryl Dike on loan to Barnsley FC in the English Football League Championship. The 2020 MLS SuperDraft selection had an unexpected explosion of success, scoring nine goals in 18 games for Barnsley so far. Last week, Orlando announced that the club extended the loan to last until the end of the EFL Championship promotion playoffs.
While Dike might return to Orlando, it probably won’t be for long as English Premier League teams have been very interested in the 20-year-old. To help make up for Dike’s absence and add more depth at the position, the Lions acquired Brazilian and former AC Milan striker Alexandre Pato.
Pato joined Orlando with a chance to resurrect a once very promising career. After struggling to connect with teammates in the first half of his MLS debut against Atlanta United, Pato played well in the second half. But late in the game, he went down with an apparent knee injury. While the injury isn’t as bad as initially feared, it might be a while before he enters a game again.
With Dike gone and Pato injured, the Lions need to depend on Akindele more than ever. On Saturday night, the 29-year-old was good but inconsistent. While he scored the game’s opening goal, he could’ve had more to put the game away by himself.
Just 33 seconds into the game, Akindele took advantage of a misplay by Nick Hagglund. Rather than playing it toward the touchline, the defender attempted to play it back to his goalkeeper. It was an easy ball to gather for Akindele but his finish was very nice, sliding it past Przemyslaw Tyton into the corner.
In the 15th minute, Akindele nearly had a second. Kyle Smith played a cross for the tall striker but it was deflected and took a hop right in front of the striker. Akindele bodied it to himself and took his attempt on the half volley, but skied the ball over the crossbar.
While the second attempt was more difficult, it was indicative of what Orlando City fans have seen from Akindele as of late. In his first two games of 2021, the striker was largely absent. He played 45 minutes against Atlanta United with very little impact, failing to record a shot. In the following game against Sporting Kansas City, the forward had one shot on target in the first minute, but that was his only shot in the match.
Akindele was more effective in this last performance. He ended the game with four shots, though the goal was the only one placed on frame. With the lack of available strikers, more pressure will be on the Canadian to produce.
When Akindele first joined Orlando, it looked as though he might be closer to what the club needed. In 2019, he started 22 of 28 games and scored 10 goals, a career-high and the most since he scored seven in his rookie season of 2014. Especially if used as a second striker and utilizing his hold-up play well, that would be considered solid production. But last season he was relegated to the bench, starting eight games in 17 appearances and only scoring three goals in a shortened season, although he did add another in the MLS is Back knockout stages in a 1-0 win over Montreal.
The club has players that can produce magic. Nani’s goal in the 19th minute Saturday night was special. He could’ve had a hat trick himself but was denied by the post in the 23rd minute and Tyton came up with a big save in the 63rd minute.
With players like Nani, Chris Mueller, and Mauricio Pereyra in the lineup, the Lions will score goals. But they will need a productive striker to finish the season near the top of the Eastern Conference.
If Dike does return to Orlando, he may be gone this summer if his rumored transfer offers are to be believed. Pato is a good replacement if he can stay healthy, but the Brazilian has had injury problems for years and his debut injury doesn’t provide confidence.
Even without Dike and Pato, Akindele can be the striker that Orlando desires. He showed that in the early moments of his most recent performance. But he needs to be more consistent with his chances moving forward as he will get more opportunities in Orlando’s potent offense.