Toronto FC's Ayo Akinola unable to attend Canada camp due to injury

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Canada Soccer's plan to showcase its men's national program to Toronto FC striker Ayo Akinola has been derailed by injury.

Canada Soccer said Thursday that Akinola was one of four players who did not make the camp in Bradenton, Fla., due to medical reasons. The other three are Toronto's Liam Fraser, Orlando City's Tesho Akindele and Vancouver's Michael Baldisimo.

A Canadian team spokesman said all four were dealing with injuries.

"It is disappointing. We would have loved to see those faces in camp," Canada coach John Herdman said on a virtual media call Thursday.

"I really really felt for Ayo," he added. "Because he is that local guy in Toronto and we've been talking seriously since July about this January opportunity. And he was excited. Through the Christmas period, we had quite a few connects. One was about two hours long, just talking about how we see his profile fitting into our team.

"To get that call from him, he was actually devastated. In one way it was bittersweet. The bitter bit is he can't come into camp. But the sweet was just to see how he really felt about missing this opportunity, that it did hurt him. It hurt us as well because I think everyone was excited just to see him in that red jersey."

The 20-year-old Akinola, who was born in Detroit but moved to Canada when he was one, is eligible to play for Canada, the U.S. and Nigeria. He made his debut for the U.S. senior side in December, scoring in a 6-0 win over El Salvador, but is not cap-tied since the match was a friendly.

Akinola, whose Canadian-born younger brother Tom has featured in the Canadian youth setup, has come up through the U.S. ranks and played at the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India.

The Florida camp was seen as a chance to show Akinola what Canada offered.

Two English-based players invited to camp have since withdrawn. Theo Corbeanu, an 18-year-old forward, is staying with Wolves’ first team while 17-year-old forward Marcelo Flores remains with Arsenal’s under-18 squad.

The surge in COVID-19 cases is being felt on both sides of the Atlantic.

"They're going through some really challenging times, similar to us in Canada, in the U.K.," said Herdman. "As Christmas unfolded, I was watching the news and I was just watching it through my hands. You're just dreading to hear it's moving to that next stage of lockdown.

"And every time it moved to that next level, you knew if would be more difficult for the clubs to want to release their players. But also for the families."

He said Flores' family eventually opted to keep him at home.

"Being a parent myself, I know how difficult those decisions are," Herdman said. "We respect that and hopefully another opportunity will open for Marcelo. And the same for Ayo."

The Canada camp is slated to run through Jan. 24 at the IMG Center in Bradenton, where the U.S. team is also training.

All Canadian players and staff had to record at least two negative COVID-19 test results in the week before their travel to camp. One Canadian player, who has not been identified, tested positive upon arrival in camp and is currently in isolation.

Because the camp does not fall into a FIFA international window, Herdman essentially restricted his player selection to North America and leagues that are out of season. Stars like Bayern Munich's Alphonso Davies, Lille's Jonathan David and Besiktas' Cyle Larin were left with their European clubs.

Herdman has added Vancouver's Theo Bair, Toronto's Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty and Jacob Shaffelburg, and FC Edmonton's Amer Didic to the camp roster.

Vancouver Whitecaps defender Cristian Gutierrez is also headed to the Canadian camp. While born in Quebec, he moved to Chile with his family when he was three and represented Chile at youth level. The 23-year-old has since switched his international allegiance to Canada.

The Canadian men are scheduled to take part in an intrasquad scrimmage on the weekend with a training scrimmage against the U.S. planned for the weekend after.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 14, 2021.

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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press