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San Jose Earthquakes 2020 player postmortem: Jacob Akanyirige

Defender got long-awaited MLS debut this year.

MLS: Portland Timbers at San Jose Earthquakes Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Jacob Akanyirige had to certainly wait his turn to get on the field in a competitive game for the San Jose Earthquakes. Signed as a Homegrown player in 2017 as a 15-year-old, he was clearly a project for the club, and as they got him used to the professional environment and waited for him to physically mature, he was biding his time.

While Matias Almeyda is not afraid to play youngsters, he also had a core group of players he primarily relied upon, especially in defense. And Akanyirige wasn’t a member of that core group in 2020, either.

Still, while he got two appearances on loan for Reno 1868 FC in 2019, he finally hit the field in 2020 on Sept. 16, getting a surprise start in central defense against the Portland Timbers, a game that ended in a 1-1 draw.

Here are Akanyirige’s stats for 2020:

Jacob Akanyirige Earthquakes 2020 Statistics

2020 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2020 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
Regular Season 1 1 69 0 0 0 0 0 0
MiB Knockouts 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Playoffs 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 1 1 69 0 0 0 0 0 0

I think among the surprises is that Akanyirige played at center back. Previously as far as I was aware, he was touted as a full back, and indeed, at Reno he played right back. Perhaps his size gave San Jose reason to switch the player’s track to become a center back, and to be fair, plenty of teenagers see changes in position over time. Remember, Nick Lima entered college as a forward before exiting as a full back, so this switch — temporary or permanent — for Akanyirige isn’t such a shock when you think about it.

The sample size is tiny, of course, but I thought Akanyirige looked quite good in his only minutes of the season. Portland were a tricky team, and were more than capable of putting a hatful of goals on the Earthquakes (which they did in other games!), so holding them to a 1-1 draw is a good performance in terms of the result, but I also thought his individual performance indicated he can hang in MLS.

Unfortunately, Akanyirige appeared to pick up an injury either during that game or immediately afterwards, and from there he fell out of the pecking order. Is it a tough break for the player? Yes, obviously. But I think the trio of Florian Jungwirth, Oswaldo Alanís and Tanner Beason locked down central defense down the stretch and they deserved the run there, too.

And so Akanyirige has to wait more for his next taste of Earthquakes soccer. His contract option for 2021 was picked up by the club, so he’ll get another year to try and crack the lineup. Again, we haven’t seen much of him, but if he continues to develop, maybe next year will be his time to really start to shine in San Jose. Stay tuned.

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