Sitting in his hotel room in Bradenton, Fla., Frankie Amaya finally relaxed.
Twenty-four hours before, he stood at a podium in Chicago as the 2019 Major League Soccer SuperDraft’s first pick. Then, he became the first SuperDraft selection in FC Cincinnati’s history.
At the time, the 18-year-old midfielder from UCLA said he was excited to be a new face on a new team. But since then, he experienced a two-hour flight delay, arrived in Florida at midnight and rejoined the U.S. Under-20 National Team before a game.
“It’s been a really busy two months from December to January, but I think it’s going to be even better now that I’m just at Cincinnati,” Amaya said. “I’m looking forward to that.”
The draft uncertainty is over. For the midfielder, there’s no lingering doubts regarding when he’d get picked or where he’d go next. He even completed the “scary part” — having to speak at the draft. Now, the only thing left for Amaya is to finish January camp with the U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team and prepare for preseason with FC Cincinnati ahead of the 2019 MLS season.
“I just want to get on the field, you know? That’s where all the stress goes away,” he said.
“When I’m on the soccer field, I don’t get nervous, just at podiums.”
In the SuperDraft buildup, the FC Cincinnati technical staff routinely mentioned the No. 1 pick was available for the right price. Even the night before, Head Coach Alan Koch said nothing was cemented.
Once the draft started, national media began reporting Amaya was the consensus first pick: The draft’s youngest player, Amaya is a central midfielder who defends as well as he attacks and has the vision to create opportunities for either himself or others.
Seconds before FC Cincinnati submitted its pick, LAFC made a trade offer for the pick, and almost certainly, for Amaya. FCC called a timeout, discussed and declined. It selected its future midfielder instead.
“We’re thrilled,” said Team President and General Manager Jeff Berding. “The opportunity to have Frankie Amaya, who’s a world-class player at a young age, is enormously exciting and something to build around for our future.”
Once he was picked, Amaya went on stage for a selfie with MLS Commissioner Don Garber and to deliver his first-pick speech. The young midfielder said he almost had a heart attack from nervousness.
“When I’m on the soccer field, I don’t get nervous. Just at podiums,” Amaya joked afterward.
But when he got on stage and struggled for words, FC Cincinnati supporters began chanting in the background, allowing the teenager to smile and savor the moment he spent previous months and years working toward.
“This is what I can’t wait for,” Amaya said of the cheering fans. “Look at these fans over here. I’ve dreamed it all since I was young. I never really believed in talent. I’ve worked hard my whole life. That’s what got me to this point. Without all this hard work, I wouldn’t be where I am now. Nobody in this room would know who I am. I want to thank FC Cincinnati for believing in me and taking a chance.”
What comes next
Amaya said training and playing with the U-20 squad is the hardest environment he’s been in. Some players are already professionals. Soon, the UCLA-product will be one of them.
“Everyone just goes all out and everybody tries to compete for a spot, so it kind of feels like a professional environment. I’ve learned the most here. I grew mentally and physically here.”
Amaya — and FC Cincinnati — hope that environment continues at the newest MLS expansion club.
Before selecting Amaya, the youngest FCC player was center back Hassan Ndam, who’s 20. Including those two and the four other players the team selected in Friday’s SuperDraft, the group of young players will noticeably drop the team’s average age on a roster filled with older, experienced professionals.
“If everyone’s trying to compete, the biggest thing will be everybody’s bigger, stronger, faster,” Amaya said of what he expects with his new club. “But everybody plays soccer, so I think that will help me out a lot.”
As for expectations, he wants to compete for MLS minutes this season.
“I want a debut for sure,” he said.
There’s a chance that arrives soon.
Once preseason training begins, FC Cincinnati travels to Bradenton for friendlies against other opponents. It’ll be the first chance for Koch to see his new roster. It’ll also be the first chance for Amaya to prove himself against new opposition. Yet that future, at least for now, is still uncertain.
What’s known, though, is after weeks of speculation where he’d end up, the teenager knows he’s an FCC player moving forward, and will always be a No. 1 pick.
“I use it as motivation,” he said. “No one can take that away from me and I’m humbled to have been the first pick.
“But since I was the first pick, I have a lot on my shoulders. I’ve never backed down from anything and I’m going to try and use that as motivation to show why I’m here.”