JENKINS: William Akio's rise to stardom on the pitch (and on-camera) for Valour FC
After a cross-continental flight home from Dubai, William Akio was understandably tired. He had just returned from the United Arab Emirates where he made his debut for the South Sudanese men's national team, in a pair of friendlies against Uzbekistan and Jordan. Despite the fatigue, the ear-to-ear grin that we’ve become accustomed to was still there.
He’s only 23 years of age but he’s a veteran of arduous weeks. His journey as a footballer, especially a Canadian, has seen him overcome so much to blossom into a fully-fledged professional.
Born in a refugee camp in Kenya, Akio grew up in Calgary. It was there where he fell in love with the game and committed to chasing the dream that so many young athletes have. Save for the debut of the Canadian Premier League in 2019, it's possible, if not very likely, that William might have fallen by the wayside due to the existing system that was not succeeding in churning out soccer stars in this country.
He accepted an offer to play collegiately at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, home of the USL Championship's Toros, and in a wonderful Canadian soccer connection, the very same city deep in southern Texas where Christine Sinclair became the world’s all-time international goalscoring record-holder. Akio's NCAA career was on the right trajectory, improving every season until a significant snag in the middle of his junior year.
"I was the [joint] top scorer in the league, I had scouts watching and everything was going very well," Akio recalled from his home in Calgary. "I took a touch off my chest from a goal kick, ran down the line, and I just heard my knee blow up." It's an apt description. In the first major injury of his career, he had torn his MCL, PCL, and meniscus. He knew he needed to bounce back and recover from surgery, but it was tough on both a mental and physical level.
"I went through depression for a while. A couple of weeks after my surgery, I kind of felt left out. I never knew what it was like to be left out of a squad. Obviously, everyone is still there and they love you, but you're not playing and there's not much you can provide for the team," the Calgarian said.
Even with the support of his coaches and teammates, Akio knew he needed to find a new hobby to help distract him through the rehabilitation process and feeling, as he put it, "sad all day." Inspired by a teammate, William started a YouTube channel. Despite some early nerves, he hit record and started filming the rehab process, producing daily vlogs discussing what it was like to be an NCAA student-athlete, sharing his meal plans and workouts, and offering useful information about the path to becoming a professional athlete.
The viewers came in droves. From a humble beginning in his college dorm, Akio has amassed over thirty thousand subscribers.
GOAL 🎖— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) October 11, 2021
TAKE A BOW WILLY AKIO!
The @ValourFootball forward with an unbelievable run from his own half dribbles through the @ForgeFCHamilton backline and finishes to make it 2-1 right before halftime!#CanPL 🇨🇦 | 📺 TELUS ch. 980 | 🔴 https://t.co/hishXepRT3 pic.twitter.com/FEDzXIUgcB
The camera became part of his kit as a footballer, travelling with him on every step of his journey, including now with Valour FC. He was hesitant to film in Winnipeg at first, cognizant that he didn't want to be a distraction to his coaches or teammates, so he mostly kept the videos to his apartment and in the gym when he was by himself.
Not long into his time at IG Field, a couple of his teammates and even some of the staff told him they watched some of his videos and really liked them. With that resounding green light, the camera came out more at training, on the road, and in the locker room. Some of his teammates even help film him at training.
The productions also include breakdowns of matches, where Akio will voice over the OneSoccer highlights himself, being very fair and critical in his assessments of himself and his team. To his credit, there hasn’t been much to be critical of in his play. He shone as a rookie, displaying his attacking skills on numerous occasions, and his acrobatic goalscoring celebrations as well.
Akio's league-wide celebrated celebration after scoring on the road to Cavalry (Credit: Cavalry FC/Mike Sturk/Tony Lewis)
In his first season wearing maroon and gold, he put together an impressive season total of eight goals and three assists through 28 matches played (the only Valour player to feature in every single match), and was a key to the Winnipeggers’ late-season push for the fourth and final playoff spot via five goals in the final six games, though the side ultimately finished one point back of York United.
Empowered by the way he finished the year, and his unflinching self-belief, the CPL sophomore is determined to do even better next season.
“I want to score 20 goals this season, I want to break the records,” he said with match-level intensity in his eyes. “I want to help my team week-in and week-out, and I want to be essentially unstoppable.”
Not many have been able to slow William Akio on his path to the Canadian Premier League. With a year of experience under his belt and the support of two nations, Canada and South Sudan, there will likely be even fewer who can slow him down in 2022.