Toronto FC has signed highly touted teenage forward Ayo Akinola, a U.S. under-17 international, as a homegrown player.
Akinola was a member of the American team that made it to the quarter-finals of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India in October before losing 4-1 to eventual champion England. He went on trial with PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands after the tournament.
The five-foot-10 182-pounder, who turns 18 in January, was born in Detroit but moved with his family to Ontario at a young age and now makes his home in suburban Brampton.
He is the 15th player in club history to sign for the first team from the Toronto FC academy. The club has signed a total of 34 Toronto FC academy players to professional contracts for Toronto FC, Toronto FC II and Toronto FC III.
"He’s shown he has the quality to be a professional," Toronto GM Tim Bezbatchenko told reporters at his end-of-season availability last week.
"Ayo is the third product of the full player pathway designed at Toronto FC, playing within our academy to playing for TFC II and now the first team," Bezbatchenko added in a statement Monday. "Ayo is a versatile player that can play as a No. 9 or out wide. For a player at such a young age, he has a lot of physical attributes that include pace and strength as well as technical ability.
Akinola’s younger brother Tom is in the Canadian youth system, attending an under-15 camp when he was 14. Now 16, he is also a member of the TFC academy.
Homegrown players are those who have been a member of a club’s youth academy for at least one year and have met certain training and retention requirements. It allows MLS teams to sign players to a pro contract without being drafted.
Players signed as homegrown players are not counted against the team’s salary budget.
Ayo Akinola had two goals in 10 matches for Toronto FC II as a callup from the Toronto senior academy side during the 2016 USL regular season. He made his pro debut for Toronto FC II on June 15 against FC Montreal and first start on June 21 against Louisville City FC.
Akinola was named to the USL Team of the Week for Week 16 during the 2016 season.
Akinola appeared in five matches at the U-17 World Cup with one goal and one assist. He spent time with the U.S. residency program in Bradenton, Fla., prior to the tournament and had four goals in the CONCACAF U-17 Championship in April.