DeLaSalle’s 2-1 loss to Washburn in Thursday night’s Class 1A Section 3A Quarterfinal was a disappointing cap to an impressive season. DeLaSalle finished the regular season with a record of 14-1, the best the school has ever done and earned a ranking of 5th in the state. Seeing the end of their most promising chance at a State Championship disappointed the players, especially the graduating seniors, but for one talented freshman this may have been his last chance as well.
Mukwelle Akale started his first year of high school soccer in an amazing fashion. In his first game he scored five goals and assisted on two more. Mukwelle’s performance continued throughout the rest of the season and eventually landed him as the leading scorer in all of Minnesota High School Boys Soccer with 38 goals. DeLaSalle head coach Collin Aswegan attributes Mukwelle’s success to his abilities with the ball; “He’s better with the ball than without. His pace with the ball at his feet is ridiculous. It’s like the ball is stuck to his foot.”
In addition to leading on the stat sheet, Mukwelle is also finding a way to be an influence on his teammates as well despite only being in 9th grade. “He leads more by example,” said Coach Aswegan, “he isn’t as much of a vocal leader as our captains are, but our players look to him for leadership on the field.” When DeLaSalle would find itself in a tight spot Mukwelle was often the player that bailed the team out by either using his ball skills or his vision to find his teammates.
Mukwelle isn’t just getting attention in the State High School League. His play has earned him invitations to participate in U14 US national team camps, a place where Coach Aswegan thinks he belongs, “His game is at the national level.”
In order for Mukwelle to continue to playing at a higher level, this could be his final year of high school soccer. The reality that his club soccer team, Minnesota Thunder Academy (MTA), will switch to a 10-month program this coming season leaves Mukwelle with a decision. MTA is part of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy who have chosen to extend their season and therefore will not allow players to participate in high school athletics. If he chooses to stay with MTA Mukwelle will no longer be eligible to play for DeLaSalle. While this may present a tough choice for Mukwelle and his family, the choice is pretty obvious for his high school coach, “He needs to be with talented players. When he is with the team he is always pushing us, but we aren’t really pushing him.”
Losing your leading scorer after one season is not an ideal situation for any coach, but as an MTA coach Aswegan knows what the program could do for Mukwelle, “Next year will be tough regardless of his decision, with the players that are graduating, but MTA gives their players a chance to get as good as they can be.” Not everyone shares Aswegan’s opinion on the possibility of losing several players to the MTA program and think that the league will suffer from it, but Aswegan is hopeful, “losing players to the academies will hurt statistics, but we will get other players.”