Orlando City SC striker Tesho Akindele knows the importance of playing at home in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. And the big striker is hoping the Lions’ supporters will provide a boost when OCSC meets New York City FC in the Quarterfinal Round at Exploria Stadium on Wednesday, July 10 [ESPN+].
“Home field in MLS is an advantage and in the Open Cup it is big,” Akindele said. “There’s something about playing on the road – unfamiliar territory, the fans against you – it’s hard. We’re looking forward to the game and having this crowd behind us.”
Akindele won the 2016 Open Cup with FC Dallas and is now competing in the 106-year-old tournament’s Quarterfinals for the fourth time in six years. Remarkably, Akindele’s teams have compiled an 11W-2L-1D record in the event. This year, he and OCSC opened with a 3-1 victory at USL Championship outfit Memphis 901, then took a dramatic 2-1 extra time home win over the New England Revolution in the Round of 16. Akindele scored what turned out to be that game’s decider, a close-range poke that deflected past Matt Turner, to send Orlando City to only their second appearance in a Quarterfinal.
Better Than the Revs“I thought we played better than they did, to be honest,” Akindele said of the Revolution game. “We had the better chances before we ended up scoring. I got the game-winning goal. I got kind of lucky, but they say you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”
After Akindele’s goal, OCSC creator Sacha Kljestan and Revolution coach Bruce Arena appeared to engage in a verbal dispute. “I don’t know how much they got into it,” Akindele said. “I think it was a little misunderstanding. I rolled my ankle a bit and everyone was unsure if was I hurt or not. So they were talking but I don’t think it was anything serious. But it shows this tournament means something. Sacha and Bruce Arena are huge names and for them to get fired up over a game shows how important the tournament is.”
It took 120 minutes, but @OrlandoCitySC was able to push past @NERevolution for its second-straight quarterfinal appearance. They will host @NYCFC on July 10.#USOC2019 | 📺 Highlights pic.twitter.com/tEowq6h5E4— U.S. Open Cup (@opencup) June 20, 2019
Akindele received early lessons in the significance of the Open Cup while playing for FC Dallas. “It’s the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup,” Akindele said, referring to the late father of FC Dallas investors Clark and Dan Hunt. “And that makes it an even bigger tournament for the owners. Also, winning it with the club that was invested in it, the owners were celebrating with us every step of the way. They got us all rings and they made sure we knew how much it meant.”
In Akindele’s first season with the Hoops, they were eliminated at home by the Philadelphia Union via a penalty shootout (Akindele converted his attempt) in the Semifinals in 2014. Two years later, Akindele and FC Dallas took away victories over the Houston Dynamo in the Quarters and LA Galaxy in the last four before capturing the 2016 Open Cup title with a 4-2 home victory over the Revolution.
A Cup & Missed Chances in Dallas
Memories of those matches with NYCFC are fresh for Akindele. “They’re heating up a little more but we’re familiar with them and we’re not worried about a hot streak,” Akindele said of the men from New York City, who are making a first-ever Open Cup run of substance this year. “We drew twice with them and it could’ve gone either way. We drew at the very end but we felt we outplayed them at home and we’re hoping we can do that again.”
Akindele grew up in Thornton, Colorado and played youth soccer in Golden, home of Coors Brewing Company, where his Nigerian father was employed. Golden is also the city of the academically rigorous Colorado School of Mines where Akindele studied electrical engineering and had a record-setting career on the soccer field, totaling 76 goals in 83 games. Akindele’s dominance in NCAA Division 2 might not have convinced MLS teams of his ability, but Orediggers coach Frank Kohlenstein had set up practice games with the Colorado Rapids, and in one of them, Akindele scored twice. His performances impressed then Rapids coach Oscar Pareja and, after Pareja took over FC Dallas, he selected Akindele with the No. 6 pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft.
Now, Akindele is developing an effective combination as a center forward with Chris Mueller and Nani on the wings for OCSC. “It’s been interesting, he’s definitely the biggest-name player I’ve ever played with,” Akindele said of Nani, the Portuguese national team standout and former Manchester United man. “Every stadium we go to, there are a bunch of Manchester United and Portuguese fans waiting for him. I don’t think I’ve experienced that with anyone else. On the field, he’s a great player, he’s showing moments of brilliance, assists and goals.”
Orlando City stands in tenth place in the MLS Eastern Conference but, like last year, the Lions have reached the USOC Quarterfinals with the door to the Semis in touching distance. “It’s a great opportunity to play teams you’ve never played before, places you’ve never been,” Akindele said of the Open Cup. “It creates rivalries. Lose, and you’re out. There are no second chances. Do or die. You play five games to win a trophy. I feel all MLS teams at the start are thinking, man, we’re five games away from winning a trophy.”