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Junior eyes jump from Kamloops to Ottawa

The 20-year-old TRU WolfPack midfielder from Calgary earned tournament MVP honours last month after leading his team to the title at the U Sports Men’s Soccer Championship in Kamloops
Thompson Rivers University WolfPack midfielder Akwasi (Junior) Agyekum was drafted eighth overall by Atlético Ottawa eighth overall in the Dec. 15 Canadian Premier League U Sports Draft.

Akwasi (Junior) Agyekum is still spinning.

The 20-year-old TRU WolfPack midfielder from Calgary earned tournament MVP honours last month after leading his team to the title at the U Sports Men’s Soccer Championship in Kamloops .

On Dec. 15, he was selected by Atlético Ottawa eighth overall in the Canadian Premier League U Sports Draft.

The Canadian Premier League (CPL) is a nine-team professional soccer league in its fifth season of play.

“Overall, it’s just a surreal experience,” Agyekum said. “This whole year — everything that’s happened, winning nationals and the awards that not only I got, but seeing a lot of my teammates do amazing— it’s all been surreal. I don’t think I’ve fully taken it in.”

Agyekum was sending tape to coaches in 2020, looking for a place to ply his craft while the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out athletics of all sorts across the world.

“I saw something special and pretty much jumped on it right away,” WolfPack head coach John Antulov said.

“Defensively, he’s a wall, he’s able to break up plays, has a non-stop engine, plays through injuries and has all the tools of size, quickness and technical ability to go and attack. I was like, ‘This kid is going to be really good.’”

Agyekum said a perfect storm brought him to Kamloops, with other opportunities falling through amid the pandemic before he eventually began his tenure with the WolfPack in 2021.

“John’s an incredible coach and he made it clear to me a lot of the attributes I showed, I already had,” Agyekum said.

“There was also stuff I had to learn, that he needed to teach me. Through the coaching staff and John being an incredible coach, they were able to help me learn a lot of new things, which helped me to impress, be more offensive and show some of those qualities.”

Nobody doubted the defensive guru’s ability to smother, but CPL scouts showed up to Hillside Stadium in November with questions about Agyekum’s offensive prowess and box-to-box capability.

“The leash was more taken off,” Antulov said.

“That was the part of his game that really drew attention. Once that started to show, it started to open a lot of peoples’ eyes.”

Agyekum, a 6-foot-1, second-year business administration student, was named a Nike Top Performer in two of three TRU matches at nationals, including the final, after which he was named championship MVP and a member of the tournament all-star team.

He was weighed down by hardware during an interview with KTW after the incredible gold-medal match, a 2-1 shootout triumph over the UBC Thunderbirds, the WolfPack’s third consecutive win via penalty kicks in the tournament securing the school’s first national U Sports title.

Agyekum will head east near the end of January for a month-long training camp with Atlético Ottawa, which will assess its top 10 draft pick before deciding whether to offer him a developmental contract for the 2023 season.

The developmental contract allows players to maintain U Sports eligibility while toiling in the CPL and Agyekum would likely return to TRU in August in time for the 2023 Canada West campaign.

Graduated WolfPack defender Jan Pirretas Glasmacher was the first TRU player to be selected in the CPL U Sports Draft, nabbed third overall in 2019 by Pacific FC of Victoria.

Agyekum was the second TRU player drafted and is aiming to be the first WolfPack product to sign a CPL contract.

“I think he [Agyekum] has a massive upside,” Antulov said. “I don’t think he’s close to his ceiling. I hope they [Ottawa] do keep him and he can work and continue to train and play in that environment because we get an even better player back in return.”

Agyekum can return to Kamloops in the spring for a second season playing under Antulov for Rivers FC in the semi-professional League1 BC ranks if Atlético Ottawa does not offer him a developmental deal.

Alternatively, Agyekum could dazzle in the nation’s capital, sign a professional contract and begin his full-time career in the CPL.

“I’m just taking it one step at a time,” Agyekum said. “Talk about full contracts usually appears later. Right now, I’m just focused on doing well and making that first step.”

Joel Waterman, formerly a defender for the Trinity Western Spartans of Langley, was selected 14th overall by Cavalry FC of Calgary in the 2018 CPL U Sports draft and, in 2020, became the first CPL player to be sold to a Major League Soccer club. The Aldergrove product plays for CF Montreal and was among 26 players named to Canada’s roster for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“This is the pathway we didn’t have before,” Antulov said.

Is it one Agyekum can follow?

“I want to take it as far as possible,” Agyekum said.

“Anything is possible through hard work, perseverance and belief, so yeah, I want to take it as far as I can go. But right now, I’m just taking it one step at a time.”