CHICAGO — Toronto FC striker Ayo Akinola has been rewarded for his breakthrough MLS season with a call-up to the U.S. national team.
The 20-year-old has been invited to the U.S. training camp for a Dec. 9 exhibition against El Salvador in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Akinola was born in Detroit and moved to Canada at the age of one. He is eligible for play for the U.S., Canada and Nigeria with Canadian team officials hoping he will eventually choose their side. His younger brother Tom has spent time in the Canadian youth ranks.
The U.S-El Salvador game is a friendly so Ayo's international options remain open.
The powerful young forward already has ties to U.S. Soccer, however. He played for the U.S. at the 2017 Under-17 World Cup and was on the roster for the 2019 U-20 World Cup before hurting an ankle, which caused him to be dropped.
He made his pro debut for Toronto II on June 15, 2016, and his MLS debut on July 4, 2018.
He turned heads this season with five goals in his first two games at the MLS is Back Tournament in July. Akinola finished the season with nine goals in 15 games.
Efrain Alvarez, an L.A. Galaxy midfielder who started for Mexico in last year’s final of the Under-17 World Cup, was also called up.
Alvarez can become eligible to play for the U.S. and would have to apply to FIFA for a one-time switch of association. Eleven of the other 21 players could make U.S. debuts.
Alvarez was born in Los Angeles on June 19, 2002, and played for the U.S. Under-15 team before switching to Mexico’s U-15s. He scored four goals in seven matches at the 2017 Under-17 World Cup in Brazil, including a 79th-minute equalizer on a 26-yard free kick against the Netherlands in the semifinals, a game El Tri won on penalty kicks.
Alvarez was 15 when he made his professional debut for the United Soccer League’s LA Galaxy II on Oct. 7, 2017, and 16 when he made his Major League Soccer debut for the Galaxy on March 2, 2019. He scored his first MLS goal against Portland this Sept. 2.
Daryl Dike, an 18-year-old Orlando forward, is also on the roster. Born in Edmund, Oklahoma, he is eligible to play for the U.S. and Nigeria. Dike played for the University of Virginia in 2018 and 2019, then debuted for Orlando this July 25.
Other possible debuts include: goalkeepers CJ Dos Santos and David Ochoa; defenders Julian Araujo, Kyle Duncan, Marco Farfan and Mauricio Pineda; midfielders Frankie Amaya and Cole Bassett; and forward Chris Mueller. The roster averaged 22 years, 201 days as of Tuesday and five international appearances.
Midfielder Paul Arriola is the most experienced player with 33 appearances. He returned from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on Nov. 8. Arriola, 25, became a U.S. regular before getting hurt during a pre-season game against Orlando on Feb. 15.
Midfielders Sebastian Lletget and Kellyn Acosta, and defenders Aaron Long and Walker Zimmerman are the only others with more than 10 appearances. Acosta has not played for the U.S. since January 2019.
Because the match is not on a FIFA fixture date, clubs are not required to release players.
Dos Santos is the lone Europe-based player. No players were included from the teams remaining in the MLS playoffs: Columbus, Dallas, Kansas City, Minnesota, Seattle New England, though some could be added from the losers of this week’s Dallas-Seattle and Minnesota-Kansas City matches.
The Americans returned to the field this month for the first time since March with a 0-0 draw at Wales and a 6-2 win over Panama in Austria, using mostly Europe-based players.
The U.S. is preparing for the delayed start of World Cup qualifying next September. Next year’s schedule also includes the CONCACAF Nations League semifinal against Honduras in June, followed by the CONCACAF Gold Cup from July 10-Aug. 1, a tournament most top players are likely to skip.
Four matches this year are the fewest for the U.S. since it played three in 1987.
Goalkeepers: CJ Dos Santos (Benfica, Portugal), Bill Hamid (D.C.), David Ochoa (Salt Lake)
Defenders: Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy), Kyle Duncan (New York Red Bulls), Marco Farfan (Portland), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia), Mauricio Pineda (Chicago), Sam Vines (Colorado), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville)
Midfielders: Brenden Aaronson (Philadelphia), Kellyn Acosta (Colorado), Frankie Amaya (Cincinnati), Cole Bassett (Colorado), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy)
Forwards: Ayo Akinola (Toronto FC), Efrain Alvarez (LA Galaxy), Paul Arriola (D.C.), Daryl Dike (Orlando), Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago), Chris Mueller (Orlando).
With files from The Associated Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2020
The Canadian Press