Allan Cruz spent much of the 2019 season in the shadows.
While he was FC Cincinnati’s most valuable player and leading scorer, his personality never relayed that. Instead, he was often out to the side, asking for help in one form or another.
Truthfully, he didn’t have much of a choice.
Growing up in Costa Rica, the young center midfielder became a household name across the country for his time playing for Herediano and the Ticos’ national team.
But when he joined FC Cincinnati last January, he joined a new team in a new league and new country.
He also needed to learn a new language.
“Last year, I was a little bit more shy,” Cruz said – via a translator. “Now as time progressed, I’ve learned to understand a lot more English. I’ve been picking stuff up and I feel a lot more comfortable now."
Photo by John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports
During training sessions or locker room meetings last year, Cruz was always close to a teammate who’d whisper translations into his ear. After he scored his backheel goal in the 2019 home opener, Victor Ulloa was the Costa Rican’s translator with local media.
Even now, Cruz is more comfortable answering questions in Spanish than English, but it’s a preference more than a necessity.
“Now, I see him sitting down by himself in the meetings and locker room just trying to figure it out,” fellow Costa Rican Kendall Waston said about Cruz. “Before, he’d sit by me because he didn’t understand anything in English. Now, he answers some things. That’s a great step for him because language is so important.”
It’s also vitally important that the FCC midfield can understand one another – especially with the majority of the starters using English as their second language.
Haris Medunjanin, who anchors the midfield, was born in Bosnia and Herzegovina before moving to the Netherlands and other countries. As a Dutchman, Siem de Jong’s first language was Dutch, while Frankie Amaya knows both English and Spanish.
Keep in mind that FCC’s interim head coach, Yoann Damet, knows English as a second language after his native French.
Better communication might sound like a subtle difference, but it could have a huge impact – even in confidence.
“Just seeing him on the field, he looks more mature and more confident,” Waston said of Cruz. “If he is better every day, that can help us a lot.”
While Cincinnati’s MLS season is on pause, we’ve already seen glimpses of Cruz’s quality. In the season opener, he scored the club’s first goal after a pass from Brandon Vazquez. Through two matches, Cruz looked comfortable as an attacking midfielder who could provide another option in the team’s multifaceted attack.
But Cruz’s adjustment to living in the U.S. has made Waston’s life a lot easier, too.
The Costa Rican duo were almost always together last year ... out of necessity.
“Once I moved to the United States, Kendall Waston helped me a lot, especially taking me to places,” Cruz said. “I didn’t have a license at the time. I have a license now, so it’s easier for me to move along and get to where I need to be. Kendall helped me a lot.”
Unsurprisingly, Waston agreed that Cruz having a license made life easier.
“It’s good because now I can sleep 10 minutes more because I don’t have to pick him up anymore!” Waston said before a big laugh. “I can just say, ‘Allan, pick me up and take me to training.’
“Last year, I was his Uber.”