Toronto FC have signed USA youth international Ayo Akinola to a homegrown deal.
The 17-year-old forward, who can play out wide or through the middle, impressed at this year’s Under-17 World Cup and is considered one of the most promising young players in the TFC system.
Akinola has not played for the club at any level since 2016, however, after leaving TFC II to train at the U.S. Soccer residency in Florida. There was doubt as to whether or not he would eventually return to Toronto or pursue a move to Europe instead, and he spent time with Dutch club PSV in October.
But unlike his U.S. teammate Josh Sargent, who has signed for Bundesliga club Werder Bremen, Akinola has decided to stay in North America.
He has signed to TFC’s first-team roster and it is hard to imagine he decided to return to the club without some assurances over his level of involvement in MLS games next season.
That said, Akinola is younger than any player to see a substantial amount of time in the league last season not named Alphonso Davies.
There has been space created in the forward group by TFC’s decision not to offer Ben Spencer a new contract, but Akinola will still have Jordan Hamilton and Tosaint Ricketts for company as well as starters Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore.
Spencer is likely to be invited to preseason training camp, too, and a further addition up front is not out of the question with the new targeted allocation money at general manager Tim Bezbatchenko’s disposal.
Regardless of his role this season, though, Akinola’s decision to sign with Toronto is a major boost for the club and an indication of its growing stature.
Bezbatchenko has repeatedly emphasized his desire to build the team around players developed through the academy, but that can prove challenging when the top talents come under the microscope of European clubs at a young age.
Akinola, though, joins Hamilton and Jay Chapman in the first team as players who have represented the academy, TFC II and now Toronto FC.
He is likely to become the first player born after the year 2000 to play for the first team.