Now 'In Every Way a Pro,' Watts Aims High in Year 3 at LouCity
Toward the end of Louisville City FC's 2020 season, Akil Watts felt change setting in.
His agent had in the weeks prior partnered the defender with a nutritionist who helped Watts cut back on a junk food habit. Watts improved his diet to the point that even when deciding to splurge on one of his favorite dishes to make, fettuccine alfredo includes broccoli.
"Going into training sessions, I felt like I had way more energy," Watts said. "I'm making sure there's color in my food - lots of green vegetables. I feel like keeping my body right has helped me a lot."
The adjustment didn't happen quite in time for Watts to see more minutes as LouCity went on a streak of 13 games unbeaten to reach the USL Championship's Eastern Conference Final. Watts made four starts in his 11 appearances.
But a healthier lifestyle and a different overall mentality are what Watts is hoping gets him to his first goal in 2021.
"This season," he said, "I want to be a starter. I feel like I can offer a lot."
Longer term, Watts would like another shot at a contract in Europe. From Fort Wayne, Ind., he made future LouCity coach John Hackworth's 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup roster, played within the Major League Soccer member Portland Timbers' academy and in 2018 landed a deal with Spanish second division side RCD Mallorca.
Watts, now 21, looks back at his experience overseas as a measure of success he might have received at too young an age.
"There were lots of things I needed to learn," he said.
There's an opportunity to prove that education now. This isn't exactly make or break for Watts, but it could go a ways toward defining his trajectory.
"He's at that age where he's going to transition from being thought of as a young pro," Hackworth said. "When you're in your third year in this league, you're either going to establish yourself as a starter and a guy who's super dependable, or especially at a club like Louisville City, you can say you were just part of a good team.
"But that's not exactly the goal that Akil has for himself or the idea we had in bringing him here."
Hackworth signed Watts in August of 2019 and didn't hesitate to throw him right into important situations. His pro debut came in a 1-1 draw that same month against rival Indy Eleven. Watts totaled four appearances on a team that played in a USL Championship Final.
Watts has high technical abilities and a knack for making an opposing player look silly while on the ball. That led to time in LouCity's midfield, but his focus for now has turned to exclusively right outside back, a role he'd have to take from last year's regular starter, Pat McMahon.
"I have to perform, or they're going to put a person in front of me," Watts said.
What might separate him in the position battle?
"Hack loves for me to attack," Watts said. "I feel like the more I can do that, the more chances we can create. Being able to get around their winger means a lot."
"If he performs up to his potential," Hackworth added, "we believe he'll be one of the best players at his position in the league."
Watts counts fellow Fort Wayne native DaMarcus Beasley as a role model and looks forward to offseason chances to play indoor with the former U.S. Men's National Team member. But Watts considers the great Spanish star Andrés Iniesta as his inspiration, hence why his purple jersey has a No. 8 on its back.
"I think he learned some valuable lessons about his preparation and approach last year," Hackworth said of Watts. "Especially with the break in the season we had that he struggled with, quite frankly.
"I'm really proud of the way he got back into it and became in every way a pro in our locker room where other players and staff respected the work he's doing. He needs to do that consistently now."
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United Soccer League Championship Stories from February 27, 2021
- Austin Bold FC Signs MLS Veteran Kofi Sarkodie for 2021 USL Championship Season - Austin Bold FC
- Now 'In Every Way a Pro,' Watts Aims High in Year 3 at LouCity - Louisville City FC
- Official Club Statement: February 26, 2021 - Sacramento Republic FC
- Third Edition of Republic FC Kickstart Grant Program to Highlight Women-Owned, Small Businesses Throughout March - Sacramento Republic FC
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