“I think for me, it was just about seizing my opportunity”

RECAP – Two goal hero Ayo Akinola joins Footy Talks Live

Breaking down his standout performance against DC United on yesterday’s Footy Talks Live, TFC forward Ayo Akinola paid tribute to the guidance and inspiration of Jozy Altidore in helping him to hone his finishing skills on the pitch:

“Jozy’s a great mentor for me. Knowing that we play in the same position, so any chance, any feedback he’s trying to give me is always helpful. I think the mostly he’s taught me is just to be patient.”

 “What he taught me is that naturally I’m more of a person who loves to see a lot of the ball, but he also said that running around trying to get the ball is not going to achieve anything – especially in certain positions. So he usually just says stay up front – the ball will eventually come to you, and especially in dangerous spots, in and around the 18 yard box, and that’s where you make your money. 

I listened to him and processed what he was saying and then I showed it on the field and it eventually worked. So I feel like he’s been a great mentor to me. He’s like my big brother, so I love him for that.”

Over the last 12 months he’s had limited minutes on the field, and little chance to prove himself at the highest level. So the gang quizzed Ayo on how he stayed motivated from the sidelines, and how it felt to see his name on the team sheet for TFC’s first game of the tournament:

“I think for me it was just like seizing my opportunity – knowing that as a young player you have to make the most of every opportunity you get  – you have to make it count. And as a forward the most you can make it count is scoring goals. Galdy I got my opportunity and was able to do that – and help the team even aside from the goals just through working hard, link up play, running in behind – just work for what the team needs.”

“Outside of football it was important to become mentally stronger. I think for me, I can honestly say that in the past I wasn’t mentally strong. So I needed to reevaluate myself and to prepare so that if anything comes your way you’re ready. On the field, it’s been literally after training doing finishing drills and speed work – 10/15 yards meter sprints almost every other day during training just to get that reactive speed at running in behind defenders.”

Discussing his excellent first goal, KJ put it to Ayo that DC United’s defence may have shown a lack of respect by standing off, and allowing him time on the ball: 

“As soon as I received it I didnt know if I had enough time, but when I was dribbling inside I knew I was losing time, and I felt like I had no one to pass it to.  I heard one of you guys on the commentary after the game say that the goal came out of nothing – that’s what I thought too. It was like, my gosh I had no clue who to pass it to. I was just dribbling inside so it was one of those moments when you just hope for the best and shoot.”

“As soon as I shot it my sight of the ball was gone, and as I was going to the ground I didn’t know what was going to happen. And then when everyone started screaming I was like – oh, I scored!” 

KJ also made the observation that over the course of the game it was clear that Ayo was developing the trust and confidence of the players around him – in particular that of Pozuelo and Piatti, the two creative maestros in attack: 

“For me – whenever they have the ball I just see how many times I can run in behind the defenders. We know they’re excellent passers and they will find you, and it also depends on the kind of team that you’re playing. Is it a day where the CBs are a little slower than normal? That’s when you run in behind. Or are they really good athletically so you can just post up to get link up plays and interchanges? I think for me it was more of a day where I had to use my strength and exploit their weaknesses and run in behind them.” 

“The role that Jozy and the coaches say to play is to stay as much as you can in between the center backs. Because if you drift off one way they’re not in danger, but when you stay in between them they have to make a decision, because if players start running they have to make a choice about whether they stay with you or run up to the player. So I feel it’s more about decisions for them. They have to think more – whether to step out or just stay. I think in general terms it’s just to create confusion for the centre backs.”

And looking ahead to Thursday’s must-win clash against local rivals Montreal Impact, Ayo is as confident as ever in his own, and the team’s ability to get a result:

“Even though I’ve never experienced the 401 Derby – hopefully I’ll get my first opportunity. I’m really excited – I’m ready to go out again […] The priority for us is just to win, to get three points for our standings, and just for bragging rights.” 

“I trust myself. That’s one thing that I’ve really learned. I know my capabilities, I know what I can do. So I just have to trust and believe in myself and I’ll be ok.”

Check out the full interview now!

Edwin Tubb