FRISCO - 2014 must have felt like a movie for FC Dallas rookie Tesho Akindele and it has wrapped up with a Hollywood ending as it was announced today that the 22-year-old has been named MLS AT&T Rookie of the Year.
“It’s honestly one of the best days of my life,” said Akindele upon learning of his award. “It’s such an honor and I couldn’t be happier.”
Despite being called the “revelation” of the MLS Combine, Akindele’s first-round selection by FC Dallas raised plenty of eyebrows. Tesho, who was relatively unknown prior to the combine and one of the few first round draft picks not present in Philadelphia, was picked at #6 overall ahead of Hermann Trophy award-winning forward Patrick Mullins, and even he was a bit surprised by the early selection.
“I had no idea I would get picked this early,” Akindele said on draft day. “I was definitely thinking somebody would pick me up in the second round or maybe at the end of the first round.”
However, when Oscar Pareja believes in you, there’s not much that can stand in your way.
Like almost all rookies, it took Akindele some time to break into the lineup playing just 15 minutes in the first ten games of the season, but when injuries cracked open the door, Tesho kicked it in starting 17 of the next 19 games while scoring seven goals and three assists including the first rookie hat trick in franchise history in San Jose on August 16.
“I definitely felt like I was learning things here and there and just applying them in the next game,” said Akindele. “Every game I was going and trying to learn from my mistakes in the game before and use the tips that people like Blas [Perez] and Je-Vaughn [Watson] were giving me.”
After his success through the summer, Akindele partnered with former Rookie of the Year finalist Matt Hedges and FC Dallas staff to launch the #VoteForTesho campaign. Over 600 #VoteForTesho Tweets were sent out and the duo's performances of famous Napoleon Dynamite scenes earned praise around the league.
"It was awesome," Akindele said about the #VoteForTesho campaign. "The feedback that I got from fans and family and friends was all so positive and working with Matt Hedges as Napoleon Dynamite was the best, he’s awesome."
A slight dip in form towards the end of the season saw him appear mostly as a substitute in October, but Akindele kicked it back into gear becoming the youngest player to score a playoff goal in franchise history in the 2-1 knockout round win over Vancouver. He would start and play 90 minutes in all three playoff games meaning his season that began in front of a few dozen at the combine ended in front of over 35,000 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
Hollywood ending, right?
“The playoff games were amazing,” said Akindele. “The energy on the field and from the fans and from the players was definitely higher than a regular season game, so to get that experience of the pressure of big-time games like that is going to be really good going forward.”
Tesho’s rise from Division 2 to MLS Rookie of the Year gives hope to the hundreds of players plying their trade below Division 1 NCAA soccer, and he couldn’t be happier to carry the torch for all the underdogs.
“Coming from Division 2, I think my whole story is not normal and is something that opens people’s eyes up that good players can come from anywhere and it’s not just a set route to success where you have to follow certain steps,” said Akindele. “There are good players that don’t come from academys and there are good players in Division 2 or NAIA schools. I feel honor to represent those people.”
Having now had a taste of success at the professional level both personally and with his team, Tesho, who told MLSsoccer.com’s Simon Borg at the Combine that he has “persistence”, will now look to build on this award-winning season. He says he will take a couple weeks of R&R to spend with his family and friends in Colorado before beginning preparation for a 2015.
“We had a little taste of success, but now you want the whole thing,” said Akindele. “You felt what it was like, but we didn’t quite get there so now next year we have a little bit more experience of the playoffs, but still have a young team so we’re hungry for it next year.”