EDITORIAL – Richie Laryea and Ayo Akinola have played a big role in Toronto FC and their success this year. As a result, TFC sits atop the Eastern Conference and have the most points in MLS with 38 points. They are also unbeaten in their last eight games, including six wins.
A lot of that success has to do with Richie Laryea and Akinola. With players like Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley being injured these players have stepped up for TFC.
Toronto FC X-Factors: Ayo Akinola and Richie Laryea
Akinola is a product of the TFC Academy. He was born in Detroit, Michigan but grew up in Brampton, Ontario. He is eligible to play for one of the three national teams: Canada, the United States of America, and Nigeria. Akinola showed with TFC II, that he had talent, scoring eight goals in 34 games.
However, nobody except maybe TFC could have expected the jump he has made this year. This year alone, he is tied for the team-lead with eight goals in only 13 games played this year. In 2018 and 2019 combined, Akinola only had one goal and two assists. This is what TFC head coach Greg Vanney said about Akinola:
Of course, having a possible MLS Most Valuable Player like Alejandro Pozuelo does help. The partnership between Akinola and Pozuelo has been incredible, especially in the MLS is Back Tournament.
Akinola had five of his eight goals this year in the MLS is Back Tournament. This includes a hat-trick against the Montreal Impact. He played a pivotal role in TFC winning 4-3 over the Impact.
— Toronto FC (@TorontoFC) July 17, 2020
Akinola is also a little like Altidore. For example, in his game-winning goal against the New England Revolution, he used his strength to score the game-winning goal for TFC.
— Toronto FC (@TorontoFC) October 8, 2020
The Canadian started off his MLS career with Orlando City SC. However, in 21 games he had no goals and only one assist to show with the Lions. Furthermore, Laryea said that the Lions clubs’ technical staff did not see him as an MLS calibre player.
Also, at TFC, Laryea was forced to learn a new position, the right-back position in the 2019 MLS season. However, in the 2019 season, he made his mark. He played 20 games for TFC including starting in sixteen games. At that time, he had one goal and two assists.
More importantly, he used his speed to his advantage. This can be seen in the 2019 Eastern Conference Semifinals against New York City FC. Laryea came off the bench and drew a penalty late in the game.
As a result, Pozuelo scored the game-winning penalty goal and TFC advanced to the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals. However, Vanney, of TFC said this after the 2019 MLS season:
“When he came to us last year, he needed to be successful. And this year, he needs to be successful again and not be content with the fact that he just had a good year last year,” said Vanney.
Vanney would then continue on Laryea:
“He needs to have that same desire to grow as a player, to learn the position and to continue to get better. And if he does that, he’ll have a great season.”
Laryea’s success though has continued in the 2020 MLS season. He has been one of the most consistent players for TFC. In the 2020 MLS season, he has had four goals and three assists. This includes having one goal and two assists against the Columbus Crew SC on September 27.
— Toronto FC (@TorontoFC) September 28, 2020
He has really proven his worth for TFC. As a result, TFC sits alone as the current MLS points leader with 38 points.
Overview of Toronto FC and their Young Nucleus
Yes, TFC is a franchise that spends a lot of money. It can be seen with how they acquired players like Jozy Altidore, Pablo Piatti, and Alejandro Pozuelo. This was not the TFC’s only focus though.
Their senior academy is now called TFC III, which is a pathway to TFC II. TFC II currently play in the third-tier USL League One and originally played in the second-tier USL Championship. Not every MLS team has an USL-affiliate, which shows TFC’s commitment to developing and producing players.
TFC ranked sixth of all MLS academies in 2017. The top player in TFC’s academy at that time was Akinola. That player is now tied with Pozuelo for the team-lead in scoring for TFC this year. The TFC Academy though, cannot take the same amount of credit for Laryea.
However, Toronto still needs to take credit for giving Laryea a new position to succeed at the MLS level. Before TFC, Laryea was close to possibly never playing again in MLS. Now he is one of TFC’s best and most consistent players.
He has the ability to give himself and the other players an ability to score. This was shown in his game-winning assist against FC Cincinnati. That is a skill that will not only help him in his club career. It will also help him in his national career with Team Canada.
— Toronto FC (@TorontoFC) October 12, 2020
TFC’s next game will be on Sunday, October 18 as they face Atlanta United FC. The game will take place in Rentschler Field at Pratt & Whitney Stadium in East Hartford. The time of the game will be 7:30 PM eastern time.
The game will be on television in Canada on TSN 1 and 4. It will also on television in Atlanta on FOX Sports Southeast. Lastly, the game will be streamed in the US at MLS Live on ESPN+.