After almost a year on the sidelines, Ayo Akinola made his long-awaited return from injury during Toronto FC’s 2-1 defeat to FC Cincinnati.
Despite the result on the day, BMO Field erupted in cheers as Akinola was brought on in the 74th minute for his first competitive appearance since suffering an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear on July 18th, 2021 while at the Gold Cup with the Canadian men’s national team.
It was also the first time the young striker was on the pitch for TFC since July 7th, 2021 against the New England Revolution.
Akinola looked lively in his 15 minutes of action against Cincinnati as Toronto searched for an equalizer after Jesús Jiménez had pulled one back for the hosts in the 65th minute.
While it wasn’t Toronto FC’s day, Akinola has all but completed his road to recovery and should start seeing significant minutes in his side’s upcoming games.
As most people in the sports world know, recovering from an ACL tear is no easy feat, and following a bright start to the 2021 season, Akinola’s injury was a huge blow to the forward, Toronto FC, and the CANMNT.
Now, with TFC looking to establish themselves as an Eastern Conference contender, and with the CONCACAF Nations League coming up on the international stage, Akinola should be raring to go ahead of the summer.
Following the 2-1 defeat to Cincinnati, Akinola spoke on how thrilled he was to get back on the pitch.
“I felt fine, the enjoyment, excitement after being out nine months, getting my first couple minutes back to playing, I felt good. I felt physically fine. The knee felt fine. Obviously it would have been better if we got the win, but overall I was happy.”
For someone so young to go through such an enduring recovery, that truly builds character.
“For me personally, I think the biggest experience that I had throughout this journey was probably just more patience, more accepting, knowing that this is the new me with the knee,” said Akinola.
“But also, having that determination factor, knowing that this is not a setback for me. I want it [the injury] to make me even better. It makes me a better athlete, it makes me better on the pitch.”
Last season, Akinola had Jozy Altidore, Patrick Mullins, Dom Dwyer, and Yeferson Soteldo as his striking teammates. As the quartet all departed the club prior to the 2022 campaign, in came Jiménez, a player who Akinola has relished learning from and playing alongside.
“I think what I’ve been watching or following from him is just more patience. He’s very calm. Very collected. You know, I think he just goes at his own tempo,” Akinola said of the Spaniard.
“He just goes at his own pace which sometimes plays in his favor which you can see. He already has seven goals on the season and just adding that to my game I think will be helpful and beneficial.”
With a first appearance of the season now under his belt, Akinola will have his sights firmly set on getting back amongst the goals in no time.