FC Dallas forward Tesho Akindele thrust himself into the thick of the MLS Rookie of the Year discussion on Saturday in a big way.
The SuperDraft pick out of NCAA Division II Colorado School of Mines scored a hat trick in his team’s 5-0 away win over the San Jose Earthquakes, helping FCD extend its unbeaten streak to nine games while boosting his own stock.
He’s the second rookie to score a hat trick this year, after Harry Shipp put three home for the Chicago Fire in a wild 5-4 win over the New York Red Bulls in May. Shipp and Akindele are likely to be at the top of most ballots when Major League Soccer awards voting rolls around in a couple months.
The Calgary, Alta., native Akindele is a prototypical MLS forward in many ways: fast, fit and athletic. His style is similar to a fellow Division II alum and one of his opponents on Saturday, Chris Wondolowski, who played four years at Chico State in northern California. Two of Akindele’s goals against San Jose were classic poacher’s goals, poking home rebounds after Jon Busch couldn’t hold the initial effort.
At the same time, Akindele also showed flashes of foot skills most MLS big men don’t have, turning Víctor Bernárdez inside-out before rolling a shot inside the far post for his first of the night. He interchanged well with Fabián Castillo in the pair’s target-shadow striker partnership, as Castillo added the other two goals on the night.
As he’s still a youthful and inexperienced player, Akindele at times lacks the discipline of a smarter veteran. He tracked back into his own middle and defensive thirds often on Saturday, taking himself away from the goal. Despite scoring thrice, the majority of his touches came closer to the halfway line than the opposing penalty area.
At age 22, Akindele has some time to refine his skills and find the balance between covering ground smartly and just covering ground for the sake of it. Oftentimes, the sort of distance he covered on Saturday is mistaken for good work rate, when it doesn’t do much more than remove him from his most dangerous spot as a pure finisher: in front of goal.
After all, his long-range effort against San Jose is the only goal of his seven this season he’s scored from outside the penalty area. The other six have all come from easy angles within the penalty area.
Akindele’s emphatic performance leads the line among MLS’s best individual performances of the last week:
Planet Fútbol MLS Best XI — Week 23
• Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union): The Jamaican rookie made seven saves in his first MLS start, battling well with opposing forward Will Bruin all night. Blake showed the promise that made Philadelphia trade up to draft him No. 1 in January, even taking Ricardo Clark on with the ball at his feet and creating a shot on goal with a long throw to Sebastien Le Toux.
• Liam Ridgewell (Portland Timbers): Ridgewell scored his first MLS goal by dribbling through the heart of the New England midfield before hitting a good shot inside the far post to tie the match. Defensively, he played well again and continues to shore up a Timbers back line that was leaking goals when he arrived.
• Wandrille Lefevre (Montreal Impact): The French center back anchored the Montreal back line in a 1-0 win over Chicago. Lefevre recovered 12 loose balls in the back, completed seven clearances and made four interceptions.
• Jermaine Taylor (Houston Dynamo): Every shutout includes a good defensive performance somewhere, and Taylor was key to Houston’s 2-0 win over Philadelphia. He completed 85 percent of his passes, working in tandem with his 11 loose-ball recoveries to neutralize the Union’s attack.
• Justin Meram (Columbus Crew): Meram contributed a goal and an assist in the Crew’s 4-1 win over LA. His goal was a sublime effort, turning in a complete circle with the ball at his feet before curling a shot into the top right-hand corner.
• Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew): On the other Columbus wing, Finlay also had a strong game against the Galaxy. He and Meram crisscrossed the central channel often, including when Finlay scored from the left side of the penalty area off Meram’s pass from the middle.
• Diego Chará (Portland Timbers): Despite a reputation as a somewhat indisciplined tackler, Chará’s timing on Saturday was excellent. He played his usual hard-nosed game above the back line, recovering 10 loose balls while ranging all over the field.
• Luis Silva (D.C. United): Silva scored two goals in D.C.’s 4-2 win over Colorado. The last two months has been one of the best stretches of his MLS career, starting 10 games and scoring seven goals, including a hat trick at Montreal on June 11.
• Fabián Castillo (FC Dallas): His performance took a backseat to Akindele’s hat-trick heroics, but Castillo scored two goals of his own and added an assist on Saturday. His performance complemented Akindele’s work well, and the pair provided Dallas’ attacking thrust.
• Tesho Akindele (FC Dallas): The rookie scored a hat trick in Dallas’ 5-0 win over San Jose, working well with Castillo. Akindele joins one of his opponents on Saturday, Chris Wondolowski, as a notable ex-NCAA Division II contributor to MLS.
• Dom Dwyer (Sporting Kansas City): Don’t underestimate the difficulty of making two penalties in quick succession. Beyond padding Dwyer’s goal total at 16, his spot kicks vaulted him above Eddie Johnson’s 15-goal 2007 season and drew him within two of Preki’s 18-goal 1996 campaign among Kansas City’s single-season franchise best.