When Andre U. Akpan ’10 donned the whites of the U-20 U.S. National Soccer Team for the first time, he was a member of a squad composed nearly entirely of professionals. He started against Haiti and scored three goals, one on a header. That summer, he played in the U-20 World Cup in Canada, helping the U.S. advance to the quarterfinals. At this point, he had played with and against some of the best soccer talents in the world. He had also just finished his freshman year at Harvard.
Today, Akpan is the outgoing co-captain of a Harvard squad that reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament, its most successful postseason in 30 years. He is the Crimson’s all-time leader in scoring with 127 points (a measurement of goals and assists) and tied for first in most goals scored (47). The man with whom he shares the spot, the late Chris Ohiri ’64, also happens to be the guy after whom the soccer field is named.
But superstardom started slowly, in Akpan’s case. “I played in the YMCA league when I was around four, and my dad always used to tell me that I hated it. I used to skip around and not pay attention,” he says.
Coming into college, however, he was a highly touted recruit out of Grand Prairie, Texas, having been named a “Top 100 Freshman to Keep an Eye On” by College Soccer News prior to the season. Even still, it took some time for Akpan, who was accustomed to wearing cowboy hats and boots, to settle in. “Andre actually came into preseason freshman year a little chubby. He didn’t exactly finish the fitness test,” writes co-captain Brian D. Grimm ’10 in an e-mail. “I think he ran the two-mile Cooper in around 19 minutes. But when it came to games,” Grimm adds, “it was clear Andre had a knack for scoring and a hard work ethic.”
As a team, the class of ’09 notched up 52 wins, two Ivy League Championships and appearances in the postseason in each of their four years. Akpan played a major role in this success, scoring 12 of the team’s 32 goals this season.
Akpan’s last collegiate goal came at the expense of Monmouth University during the second round of the tournament, a beautiful shot to the back left of the net. But Akpan hopes to continue scoring, from now on as a professional. “Hopefully the plan is to find somewhere to play professionally, anyone who would pay me to play,” Akpan says modestly. The senior, who took five classes for two semesters and studied abroad one summer, is graduating early to be a full participant in the Major League Soccer SuperDraft, where he is very likely to find a job.
But Akpan will be missed at Harvard, both on and off Ohiri Field. James E. Rees ’12 remembers Akpan going out of his way to spend time with him and fellow underclassman Timothy P. Linden ’12 outside of practice. “Maybe he was just pretending to have fun when he came and hung with Tim and me,” Rees laughs, “but as an upperclassmen he really did everything he could to make sure the young guys felt like they were part of the team and were having a good time.”