Note: I’m breaking down his game using his junior highlight reel. I’ll do another film review at a later date with a GIFs and such, since I have a couple UVa games in the ol’ DVR.
With Nashville SC’s selection of Virginia midfielder Irakoze Donasiyano in the first round of the 2021 MLS SuperDraft, it is time to take a closer look at the young Cavalier. “Koze,” who turned 23 last week, played four years of college soccer at the University of Virginia (with a potential spring season coming up to put a bow on things).
As a freshman, he played sparingly for a UVa team that finished as the ACC runner-up and made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. He had a big sophomore year, starting every game for a 10-4-3 Hoos squad, scoring a goal and notching two assists. His junior year was the pinnacle of the team’s success, with a 21-1-2 record, ACC regular-season and tournament titles, and a trip to the NCAA Championship game. He notched one of his six assists on the year in that title game (he also scored four goals on the season), and hit his attempt in the penalty shootout, but his Cavaliers couldn’t overcome Georgetown.
This Fall, a depleted UVa team played through a pandemic and scuttled to a 3-4-1 record. The ACC – one of just two teams to play in the traditional fall season – will resume play March 5, though the Hoos’ schedule has not bene released. Donasiyano is tentatively expected to participate before joining up with Nashville SC at the conclusion of the NCAA season.
Let us determine what type of player he is by going to the film, which he has helpfully uploaded to YouTube.
The first thing that pops – and sort of it’s a weird first thing to stand out, which is what makes it so notable – is his balance. He takes some contact and maintains his footing regularly, using a hand on the ground only when necessary. He can slither through traffic by using a body lean to get under or around the opponent, and he gets back to his running posture almost immediately when the coast is once again clear. Although he’s a really skinny guy, he’s able to use his physicality to win individual battles because he knows he’s the one who’s going to be upright at the end of them.
One of the ways he uses that ability is by being willing to turn away from the most immediate threat in traffic, twisting to protect the ball, then when the player overreacts to that initial movement, turning back the way he came to find open space. He’s comfortable using that skillset out wide, too, but doesn’t have the pure 1-v-1 ability to take guys on and win dribbles in a straight line like an MLS-level winger. While he has two-foot ability, he strongly prefers to use the right. On that more-polished foot, he’s able to push the ball forward pretty quickly and run away from trailing players in possession. He’s not a pure burner, but his game speed is more impressive than whatever his track times would be.
Koze is willing to play crosses, but he tends to prefer looking for a progressive vertical pass, including a number of through-balls into the penalty area on this film. He has good vision, and plenty of leg to not only switch the field or put one behind the defense, but even to do both with one kick. That’s not to say he has a cannon (and shooting, that lack of pure power is sometimes apparent), but the pieces are there to develop when he’s a full-time soccer player.
As an offensive threat, he’s mostly that midfield-level distributor. However, he has a knack for being that late-arriving runner into the box. Even when he provides the through pass that opens up the defense, he’s on his horse and getting into position to be the finisher in the box, as well. If the offensive push breaks down, he has the motor and speed to get back to cover from those advanced positions.
Since Nashville SC General Manager Mike Jacobs has already noted that Donasiyano likely starts his pro career at fullback, and a lot of the skills he shows will translate to that position. Indeed, he played primarily as a wingback for UVa in the Fall and will do so in the Spring season. While the system in Charlottesville is different than what he’ll be doing at the professional level, the progressive passing and high-motor running play in any system. He can fold inside and interchange with the wingers in his front three, and is growing ever-more comfortable in pure wide positioning. I’ll have an updated film breakdown in the coming weeks of his performances there.
Irakoze Donasiyano photo courtesy University of Virginia Athletics.