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San Jose Earthquakes’ Akanyirige on MLS debut: ‘It caught me off guard’

Player was surprised to get the nod, but performed admirably.

MLS: 2020 MLS Portraits USA TODAY Sports

There’s one common refrain among all the player on the San Jose Earthquakes roster in 2020: Always be ready.

The high-energy pressing and marking style deployed by Matias Almeyda is physically and mentally demanding, and with games coming at a rapid clip in this most unusual 2020 season, it is hard for Almeyda to play the same starting XI game after game.

And so, after waiting nearly three years, 18-year-old Jacob Akanyirige had his name called for the first time in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw against the Portland Timbers.

Playing center back, the Homegrown player made his MLS debut with an assured performance that left him as an anchor of sorts in the back on the night, after Oswaldo Alanís exited the match with a knee injury midway through and Florian Jungwirth was shifted around to cover for the Mexican international’s exit.

It turns out, Akanyirige didn’t quite believe it when he was first told that he would be playing.

“I found out, it was the day before the game, the practice before, when he told us,” he said in the video below produced by the club. “At first, it caught me off guard because I wasn’t really expecting it, but after that I was really excited, a good opportunity. I was just looking forward to the game.”

Signing his first pro deal as a 15-year-old, Akanyirige was a project from the start and made four appearances last year for San Jose’s USL Championship affiliate Reno 1868 FC. But in each of those games, he played just 45 minutes, while Wednesday’s debut for the Quakes he lasted 69 minutes before being substituted.

But with Almeyda emphasizing the need to use most of his roster this year for multiple reasons, Akanyirige looks like he’s earned more playing time down the homestretch of a unique 2020 season.

And the player will work to be ready for the next call.

“All the coaches train us, they want everybody to be ready,” Akanyirige said. “Everyone needs to be ready for when their opportunity comes because everybody’s a part of the team. You could play whenever, so just stay fit, stay ready, and your chance will come.”

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