Bryan Akongo finally getting the chance to settle in for men’s soccer


Nathan Breisinger

Bryan Akongo carries the ball against Xavier.

Tyler Gallo

For Bryan Akongo, the last two seasons of his soccer career have been everything but ordinary.

His arrival to the team out of London coincided with one of the strangest seasons in men’s soccer history, a year where they had to deal with joining a new conference, the COVID-19 pandemic and playing indoors 22 miles off-campus while the rest of the conference enjoyed home-pitch advantage.

Akongo will be the first to tell you how tough his transition and the team’s transition have been. The pandemic messed with his plans, which is why he ended up at Robert Morris, to begin with.

“I wanted to keep playing football in England and see how I did there,” he said. “[Shortly after] COVID hit, and I didn’t play for a year which changed my plan. I was looking at a lot of schools, but when RMU came along, it was the first where there was real interest. When I spoke to the coaching staff, it seemed like a no-brainer, it was just a matter of what time I would get here.”

The midfielder did not have the benefit of spending time in the city or on campus, transitioning straight into the season without playing a non-conference schedule to get his feet wet. While it was tough to do so, Akongo noted that the quickness of it all helped him in the long run.

“COVID made coming to America a little more stressful. When I got here, I didn’t know what to expect, the restrictions and the bubble made it so that I didn’t get to experience a proper college lifestyle,” he said. “When I came in, it was straight to the season and there was no feeling-out process. It was a quick transition, but that made it a little easier.”

The craziness of it all showed during the team’s season, a season where they scored just one goal and lost all but one game. Akongo mentioned that losing all the games wasn’t that tough, but the style the team lost the games in was the worst part.

“We didn’t threaten teams. I wasn’t used to that as a player, and I don’t think other players [on the team] were used to that either,” Akongo said. “[The season] was truly a whole rebuild from the start, whereas other teams were playing with each other for years. It was tough, but it was also a good learning experience, playing in college games for the first time.”

The team spent all of last season indoors playing at the Southpointe Fieldhouse in Canonsburg, just over 20 miles off-campus. Akongo does not care where he plays as a player, but he also appreciates finally getting the chance to play on campus and in front of fans.

Staying local over the summer, Akongo played with the Pittsburgh Hotspurs and got the chance to get accustomed to the city for the first time, enjoying his experience.

Bryan Akongo hotspurs
Bryan Akongo playing with the Hotspurs.

“It was great. During the semester, I didn’t get to see much of the city,” he said. “I got to do a lot of that this summer. I got to play, coach and do other activities. It helped me integrate with people in the area, I didn’t know that people knew about Robert Morris in the city, but they did.”

Joining with Akongo in 2020 was RMU head coach Jason O’Keefe, who came over from Appalachian State after building up that program. Akongo has relished his opportunity to play under him.

“Coach O’Keefe has been around the game a while and has probably seen hundreds of players like me,” Akongo said. “He’s also seen all the ups and downs in soccer. It’s good to have a coach that has been through it all, and seen success. That’s where we want to be. He’s the best man for the job.”

As the team traveled to Northern Kentucky, the defending Horizon League regular-season champion, Akongo finally notched his first collegiate tally, scoring the only goal in a hard-fought 1-0 victory. Akongo celebrated the goal for a few seconds, then ran back to defend the rest of the game.

“NKU is a good team, and they beat us 2-0 in the spring, but we felt like we were in that game for about 70-percent of it,” he said. “We were confident that we could get at them this time around, and I think they were surprised at how much we improved. Getting a goal is always great, especially after missing a few chances in previous games, I was happy to finally get one, but I instantly remembered how good NKU was and went back to defend.”

Robert Morris, while some results have not gone in their favor, has still come out looking much better this season, including knocking off NKU and Wright State in their Horizon League schedule this season. Akongo has noted a shift in the mindset.

“We learned that every game is going to be tough and every game is going to be a battle,” he said. “We have to be professional on and off the pitch to compete with these teams. We’ve got a lot of experience from the new guys coming in as well. I don’t think we’ve jelled as a team yet either, but even now you’re seeing the improvements and I think we will be dangerous for the next few years.”

As it stands today, Akongo is tied with Gal Ben Dayan for the team lead in points and is tied for second in goals, finally settling in on a team he didn’t get the chance to last season.

“I feel like teams are finally starting to respect us a bit more, we’re not a pushover like last season,” Akongo said. “I think we still are on our way to getting more respect. For me, I don’t think too much about points, it’s about performance. I want to dictate games and have my stamp on them, whether it’s being involved in a goal or impacting a goal.”

The team’s next two games are against some of the toughest teams in the conference, taking on UIC and Cleveland State. Akongo embraces the challenge and is looking forward to the rest of the season.