Sunday evening after Sporting Kansas City’s 4-1 win over visiting Portland Timbers, striker Willy Agada was buoyant:
“Shout out for the boys. All the boys were working today,” said the Nigerian native to the media surrounding him. “You can see how everybody is so hungry today to play, and everybody knows we did it. We deserve these points, and I’m happy that everybody was working and that we did it. I’m excited for us.”
In just over a month with Sporting Kansas City, Agada has not only delivered five goals and one assist in the last three games (four starts, two substitute appearances total), but, more importantly, the 22-year-old Agada has infused the side with an energetic mix of joy, wisdom, brotherhood, skill, and a perceptive and deadly execution of the fundamentals.
One only needs to witness his second goal on Sunday night: As Agada sees left back Ben Sweat receive out wide; Agada, like an educated adult, has his ploy in mind. Then, with the inner stirring of excitement from childhood days, Agada exuberantly accelerates to gain momentum. The pass comes. Agada’s burst takes him past the beleaguered defender (a helpless parent wondering where these kids get all this energy). The touch has no doubt. Goal!!! Willy Agada! Goal!!! Kansas City!
“Goal scorers can score goals in all different ways,” said Sporting Manager Peter Vermes of Agada in the post-match press conference. “I thought his second goal was excellent: It was his movement to get the defender to step with him as he went back to the ball; then, he created the space underneath. An excellent finish for him to get on the end of that.”
A teammate’s teammate gives credit endlessly, and Agada was not short on his appreciation for Sweat’s assist.
“Wow, a brilliant assist from Ben. It’s such a great connection,” said Agada. “When I look at him, he just looks at me and he knows I’m going to change the run and he just puts the ball where it’s so easy for me.”
Agada’s youthful joy and passion is who he is. The deeper read on who he is as a player reveals the tactical shrewdness, whether learned or instinctual, of an on-field commander.
Yet, the final joy and reward often comes with discipline and maturity. In the 16th minute of Sunday’s match, the ball snuck into Agada behind an overzealous defender. One-on-one with Timbers goalkeeper Aijaz Ivacic, Agada does not immediately fire. Instead, he waits, and is then forced to pull the ball back in the face of two defenders. In reaction, too often strikers will kick the post or immediately hang their head in visible frustration at the missed opportunity. Subsequently, that consternation will often manifest itself in the next opportunity being missed as well.
“That’s football for you… When you have the chance, you get it. Even if it’s a goal, even if it’s not a goal. You just need to keep your head up and keep going… It doesn’t matter. In that moment, it’s done. It will never come back again,” stated Agada with the wisdom of a veteran. “You just need to keep your head strong and be professional and wait for the next one.”
Being headstrong allows Agada to be present in other moments, moments where his keen instincts kick in.
After providing Sporting the opening salvo off a half-volley in which Agada displayed focus and strong body control on a ball that had bounced over his head and was behind him, Agada turned provider in the 42nd minute. Having touched inside-out with his right foot to face the interior of the field, Agada surveys two options. Right winger Daniel Salloi is square to Agada but marked. In a second’s time, Agada decides against Salloi while spying midfielder Erik Thommy’s coming central run. Agada lays off smoothly in a perfect spot for, as Vermes described it, Thommy’s “world class” finish.
The value of the initial touch and the immediate decision making cannot be overestimated – Thommy praised Agada’s importance by saying he “makes for us a lot of solutions in the final third” – Nor can Agada’s awareness and appreciation for what Thommy, whose arrival corresponded with Agada’s, has brought to Kansas City.
“He has such a great mentality. You can see him trying to work and trying to put us in the situation,” Agada proclaimed. “That’s my job to keep the ball on the top, and if I don’t have an option, to keep it. Thommy always gives me options. So it’s a great goal by him, and I’m excited I’m the one gave him the assist.”
That goal was Sporting’s third of the first half and put the home side comfortably beyond the point where an opponent’s goal creates a cagey momentum shift. In general, the goals that Agada has helped bring have shifted Sporting’s mentality.
“Massively. Massively,” exclaimed goalkeeper John Pulskamp. “It just lifts all the pressure off you and allows you to play freely; it allows you to be comfortable; it allows you to almost welcome in some pressure from the other team. When my guys are scoring three goals on the other end in the first half, I’m like, ‘Okay. Come at me. Bring some chances of your own and let me do my part.’”
Asked about approaching captain Johnny Russell for the team lead in goals, Agada praised his captain for pushing everyone forward before stating, “The most important thing is team, is winning.”
“Everybody is just here about the team. We are not selfish in this team. You can see how I laid the ball to Thommy, and I tried to give some balls to Russell. It works out. We play together,” he continued.
And Agada has picked up some vernacular to emphasize his feelings of unity with all: “Bro, It’s crazy. These guys, they’re just making me to be a star, bro. They’re cooking always. I’m just eating, you know. I’m so grateful to have amazing players like this in the team. They’re lovely.”
Don’t worry. Agada had words for the fans too: “The fans are amazing. It’s all about love. It’s crazy. The love is crazy. I’m excited to have fans like this. Hopefully we keep winning games and putting smiles on their faces… I’m excited to be in this family. I’m so excited to be here.”
Agada’s effusive personality is reflective of his play on the field. Yet, his play takes it a step further in execution. Each part has been a salve for a team that has hit so many lows this season, and all have been reminded of why we love this game and why we love to play this game. Will it all end in unexpected playoff glory? “Why not?” Agada asked. “It’s game by game and just keep our mentality straight.”
Keeping that mentality straight is easier with Agada around.
Agada smile. Is it the fans smiling? Is it Willy? Is it his teammates? Yes, yes, yes, it is. It’s crazy, bro.