This will be the last year that Andre Akpan gets to prove himself, according to Oscar Pareja.
I have been a big fan of Rapids forward Andre Akpan since he was first drafted onto the team. The guy has a lot of solid abilities: great footwork, enough pace and strength to deal with most defenders, and some growing abilities in his biggest weakness, off the ball movement.
That said, he's quickly turning into a question mark instead of a big potential guy, simply because he hasn't been able to play his way onto the first team through four seasons.
When Gary Smith was the manager, it was easy to see why he wasn't finding his way onto the field. Conor Casey and Omar Cummings had death-grips on the starting two forward positions, and Gary's favorite mediocre target man Caleb Folan was sapping away nearly every minute available the year those two finally missed a sizable chunk of time due to injury.
In 2012, Oscar Pareja used just about everyone, Akpan included, at random intervals. So, minutes didn't come very often for him as he was rarely the hot hand to play like Kamani Hill was. It didn't help that Casey and Cummings were still drawing the majority of the minutes during the off-and-on periods of health they showed.
There's not much time left for excuses from the guy, though. At age 25, Akpan is reaching the prime of his career and is probably going to peak some time soon. What he's shown through four years with the team has not been enough to earn a starting spot on the field, and he somehow managed to end up behind Quincy Amarikwa on the depth chart on more than one occasion as well. If he wasn't able to get on the field building up to 2013, he's going to need that push this year, or there's no guarantee it's ever going to come.
Oscar Pareja is well aware of this fact, and he said as much while talking with the Denver Post.
"Andre knows it has to be this year. Or he won’t be here next year." That was Pareja's quote when asked about Akpan's development, and if it sounds like an ultimatum, it's probably a deserved one.
Can he get on the field and prove his worth this year? Fortunately for Andre, the signs look good in his favor. Last season, despite him not getting much more playing time than he got in any other season, was probably his best season yet, with three well-taken goals on the record and some solid minutes logged as a center forward, as well. Add in some great performances with the reserve team and he'll have an argument to get on the field this season.
He's also playing at probably the thinnest position on the team, depth-wise. Edson Buddle and DeShorn Brown are the only real competition at center forward, and simple fixture congestion guarantees that Akpan will get more minutes in 2013 than any other season. It's what he does with those minutes that will determine whether or not he'll be wearing burgundy in 2014 and beyond.
Like I said at the start of this, I'm a big fan of Andre Akpan. I'll be rooting for him to succeed, because I have the sneaking suspicion that there will be big success somewhere in his career. If that somewhere isn't in Colorado, it's going to be a darn shame.