Oh say can you (decide) Ayo?

O Ayo!

Sometimes the chase is more exciting that the reward.

Whether that’s a romantic partner, new job or a rare pair of Air Jordans, the hunt is as big a part of the thrill as the actual acquisition is.

I point this out as a complete aside before talking about Ayo Akinola and what national team he will ultimately choose to represent.

If you’re new to this discussion, a quick primer: Ayo was born in Detroit, but he grew up in Brampton. He played his entire youth career in Canada and has been a part of the TFC system since 2016 and signed a first team contract with TFC in 2018.

He’s arguably the biggest success story of the TFC academy and is now considered a vital part of the Reds future.

His international status is a bit more complicated. Despite having grown up in Canada and playing in the Canadian system his entire life, he was approached by the US youth program in 2015. That was a year before he joined the TFC academy and then, as now, if a player in Canada isn’t in a MLS academy that player isn’t likely to be considered by the Canadian youth program.

So, Canada’s blind spot became the US’ gain when it came to the international game. Ayo has gone on to earn 51 youth caps for the country of his birth and, last fall, he was given his first call up the the full senior national team.

Make no mistake, this is a Canadian kid – he’s from Brampton. He grew up experiencing Canadian things. But, it also makes perfect sense that he feels the pull of the US program. They showed him the love. They brought him in. They made him part of the family and it stands to reason that he feels loyalty to that.

That’s something that those that have narrow, nationalistic views about duel nationals have to realize. It’s not black and white for the players. They can feel Canadian, but also part of the US system. Without having directly asked Ayo about this, it seems to me that he fits this description.

That’s driven home by the fact that he has yet to fully commit to the US. Or, at a minimum, he’s yet to completely close the door on Canada.  

To that end, he was left off both the Canadian and US u23 Olympic qualifying rosters today. The official line is that he’s injured, but it sees a stretch that he won’t be ready in a month’s time when the tournament starts. The more likely reason is that he’s waiting to see if one or both of the teams qualify for Tokyo.  

If it’s one and not the other then his final decision might be made for him. It’s likely a testament to his attachment to Canada that he’s still willing to take the wait and see approach.

He’s earned the right to chose. I, for one, will respect his choice, although I suspect many will not.

Regardless, as stated at the top of the article, this debate about his future is all a bit silly right now. Ayo had a hell of a good year last season, but it wasn’t such that he’s a slam dunk, can’t miss player. He might be at the start of an upward trajectory that will lead him to the highest levels of the game, or he might be a very good MLS player, or, maybe, he’ll be a one-year flash in the pan.

I don’t think it will be the latter, but if it is he won’t be the first player of his age and description to not quite fulfill his potential.   

So, maybe it’s best to just let the kid focus on improving for TFC and make his international choice when the time makes sense for him.