Frankie Amaya isn’t focused on the past.
Selected with the first overall pick of the 2019 MLS SuperDraft, the midfielder has had a choppy start to his professional career. Despite receiving consistent playing time, Amaya started his career with a badly struggling FC Cincinnati side, and the attacking-minded player has just two pro goals to his name.
Now with the Red Bulls after requesting a trade out of Cincy, Amaya is determined to show his talent – irrespective of the top pick Cincinnati used on him.
“I thought it was a good feeling, to go No. 1 in the draft and have Cincinnati give me the opportunity to start my professional career,” he told The Post in an exclusive interview. “Now, I just find it irrelevant because I’m already in the league, and that No. 1 pick, I don’t think it means anything anymore.
“So I just gotta prove myself in the league and nobody even pays attention to that. They just pay attention to what you do on the field. And for me, I don’t think there’s no pressure, being the No 1 pick. I think I battle every game, and I try to put myself in situations to be successful.”
While Amaya is the unfinished article at the pro level, he’s been a known commodity in the American soccer scene for some time.
After his lone season at UCLA, Amaya was named a Freshman All-American and First Team All-Pac 12. He would soon join the US U-20 team in March 2018, before eventually signing a generation Adidas deal the next winter at 18 years old (which meant he was forgoing his remaining three years of college eligibility.)
But things didn’t quite go to plan in Cincy. Despite starting 36 games for the club across two seasons, he stated his desire to move on after 2020.
“During this offseason I’ve realized that the club doesn’t have the same level of commitment to me, so I have asked the club to trade me as I don’t feel my goals can be achieved in Cincinnati,” he told The Athletic through his agent in February.
The club told a somewhat different story to the site, claiming: “Earlier this offseason, Frankie expressed his frustration with losing and asked if we would trade him.”
When asked by The Post about his reasons for leaving, Amaya demurred.
“It was just a lot of things,” he said.
Regardless of Amaya’s reasons for leaving – Cincinnati did heavily invest in the roster last offseason – it wasn’t the first time he’s taken a calculated gamble.
Amaya cut his freshman season at UCLA short to join up with the U20s – at least in part to position himself for the upcoming U-20 World Cup roster, which he did not make – and later made the choice to go pro as a fresh-faced 18-year-old.
That’s not a decision he’d take back, nor is he panicking about the slow burn of his progression.
“Yeah I have no regrets. I think for me it was a good choice, because every day I’m looking to improve and be a better player, a better person. And I think coming into the league at 18, going into my 19th year, I thought I was young, but I wanted to be a young player to try and get more experience in the league and try and further my professional career at an earlier age.
“I think I’ve been doing pretty well. Obviously I haven’t gotten on the goal sheet and the assist sheet a lot, but I think I’ve been playing really well… over the last two years I think I’ve become a way better player, a more mature player, and think I’ve grown in every aspect of the game.”
Amaya seems to have the trust of his new coach Gerhard Struber.
Since not being named in the squad for the team’s opener against Sporting KC, Amaya has appeared in every game, and started the last three. Though he hasn’t yet lasted a full 90, he is beginning to showcase his slick offensive play in the middle.
He scored his first goal for the club in its fourth game vs. Toronto, and per FBref is third on the team in successful dribbles and joint-fifth in shot-creating actions
“He has different skills than other players and in the 10, in the 8 he can use spaces, tight spaces very successfully and he has always some surprises for the opponent and he is uncalculated for the opponent,” Struber said after the Toronto win. “It’s very very difficult against him. He makes us, in the last third, better … I’m very happy with him.”
Amaya himself seems invigorated, and is slowly getting acclimated to his new club. Former Cincy teammate Andrew Gutman has eased the transition, though adjusting to the Red Bulls’ dogged high press will take a minute. He hasn’t seen much of New York yet, either, as he’s currently holed up in a hotel.
Still, for a player who was “very unhappy” not so long ago, these growing pains likely seem minute.
Frankie Amaya is still unfinished.
But for now, at least, he’s smiling.
“It’s exciting to be here,” he said after that Toronto win. “I’m just excited to be a Red Bull.”