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Frankie Amaya: From Mexican-American youth leagues and Pateadores to UCLA, U.S. U-20s and MLS No. 1 draft pick

Frankie Amaya  insisted on joining a soccer team. Problem was, he hadn’t turned 4 years old yet.

"He just wanted to play,” said his father, Franuel, shortly after Cincinnati FC made 18-year-old Frankie the No. 1 pick at the 2019 MLS SuperDraft.

A friend of Franuel’s who coached U-6s in a Southern California Latin league accepted the 3 ½-year Frankie on his team.

“Frankie played soccer all the time,” said Franuel. “You name it. At the park, in the house with friends, family, and of course with mom and dad.”

Franuel and his wife, Norma Garcia, both emigrated from Mexico as children. Both hailed from the southwest Mexican state of Guerrero – but they met in high school in Southern California. They’ve raised their children – Frankie’s little brother is 7 years old – in Santa Ana, an Orange County city of 330,000 whose population is nearly 80% Hispanic.

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Where Frankie Amaya grew up is also near one of the most successful mainstream youth clubs -- Pateadores, which had already produced three No. 1 MLS Draft picks. It’s a club that pays attention to the soccer played in the Santa Ana leagues.

Pateadores invited Amaya to guest play for their U-13s at a tournament where he quickly caught the eye of their Development Academy director Teddy Chronopoulos, a former MLS player.

“When he got the ball amazing things happened,” Chronopoulos said. “Very quick. Creative mind. Very technical. I said, ‘Hi, I want you to come play for us.’”

Amaya joined Pateadores and played four years of Development Academy ball.

“He had the ability before he came,” Chronopoulos. “We just gave him a bigger platform to showcase his skills, provided all the resources as a club, and he's taken advantage of it. He did a lot of futsal when he was younger. A lot of lower division Mexican leagues and pickup ball. And he really wasn't in a structured environment until he came to us at age 14.”

A year ago, no one would have predicted that Amaya would be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft. But it became almost a fait accompli after he shone for the USA in its Concacaf U-20 Championship win in November. He had a particularly good midfield performance in the 2-0 final win over Mexico.

That performance came within a year of Amaya’s first invitation from the U.S. national team program.

“He'd been at [U.S. Soccer] Training Centers for the last three or four years, but nothing really came of it,” Chronopoulos said. “People were worried about his size. I told him to keep sticking with it and good things will happen.”

Late last year, as the 5-foot-4 Amaya was starring for the Pateadores DA team and getting recruited by UCLA, among many others, Chronopoulos called U.S. U-19 national team coach Dave van den Bergh:

“I said, 'You've got to get this kid into camp. He deserves to be there.' And he brought him. Dave and I are good colleagues. I said, just bring him in one time. If he doesn't do well, that's on him. He came in and Tab Ramos saw him, and kept him three more days to train with the U-20s.”

Ramos kept calling Amaya back, through the Concacaf Championship that qualified the USA for next May’s U-20 World Cup.

"Frankie is very comfortable on the ball under any amount of pressure and in any area of the field,” said Ramos. “He makes plays in the final third, can get to full speed in three steps and is a relentless worker."

For UCLA coach Jorge Salcedo, Amaya is one of the many talents he’s recruited that are so good they leave college early to go pro. Longtime MLS coach Dominic Kinnear, now an LA Galaxy assistant coach, once joked to Salcedo that MLS stood for M-e L-eaving S-alcedo.

Salcedo does not begrudge at all Amaya’s early move to the pros.

“I am extremely happy and proud of Frankie,” Salcedo said. “What an incredible story and inspiration for his community in Santa Ana.

“Frankie is a phenomenal talent and an even better young man. He will give everything, everyday to FC Cincinnati. While his time was short at UCLA, I am convinced it was the precise experience he needed to excel with the U-20s at the Concacaf World Cup qualification tournament.

“His performances and in particular the final vs. Mexico showcased the huge upside Frankie has as a professional player. I wish him the best and all the success in the world.”

Amaya, in his first big encounter with media after he came down from the SuperDraft stage, was asked about his Pateadores experience by a Southern Californian reporter:

“The coaching staff is very good. I was there since my freshman year in high school. Four years there. It got me to the next step, to UCLA. And UCLA got me here.”

Amaya grew up watching lots of Mexican League soccer, and became a Club America fan like his dad. Then started watching MLS games. But his role model -- and he named only one -- is Andres Iniesta.

Iniesta, the brilliant, highly technical, energetic former Barcelona midfielder -- is also notable for being below average height.

Chronopoulos isn’t concerned that Amaya’s size will prevent him from making it in MLS:

“He’s street smart. He's unpredictable with the ball. He's very good in possession. He doesn't lose the ball very often. He's very deceptive. He's got a lot of good qualities on the technical side and he's very smart tactically."

When Amaya joined Pateadores, he wanted to play as a defensive midfielder (a No. 6). Perhaps he was drawn to defensive play because his father was an outside back in his playing days -- “Frankie liked to play defense when he was little, then somehow he became an attacker,” said Franuel.

Chronopoulos responded to Amaya's request to play defensively with: “With your ability, you can break down defenders, you really need to think about being a 10.”

Now Chronopoulos believes Amaya is a combination of No. 10 attacking midfielder and a box-to-box No. 8, because he has such impressive endurance.

“We'll see where I play [with Cincinnati],” said Amaya. “First of all, I’ve to got to work hard and fit in. Wherever [Coach Alan Koch] wants me to play, I'll be happy to play.”

A half hour after Amaya was selected as the No. 1 pick in the giant ballroom at the Chicago convention center, someone complimented him on his brief speech.

“Thanks. I could have said even more,” Amaya said.

Like what?

“My parents sacrificed coming from Mexico. It was a hard journey for them. Thankfully, I was born in the U.S. and it has been easier for me than it was for them, so I'm thankful for them. For helping me get to where I am and making my life so much easier. They sacrificed a lot for me. I can't thank them enough and I never want to let them down and I think I made a good step forward.”

20 comments about "Frankie Amaya: From Mexican-American youth leagues and Pateadores to UCLA, U.S. U-20s and MLS No. 1 draft pick".
  1. R2 Dad, January 12, 2019 at 10:45 a.m.

    Wow--this could be great, if it comes through. Kid looks sharp on the ball, creative. As long as he doesn't get the snot kicked out of him in MLS, he could be an exciting player. So, will the officials protect him? Or will MLS teams just kick him in turns until he gets injured? Professional referees never apply Persistent Infringement, and his situation is exactly where it is needed: middle of the park, on the ball often, creative player. It's going to be your turn soon, PRO, to decide if the game can get to the next level in this country. Or was Atlanta, with their quick smaller players counterattacking, an anomaly? Can MLS teams play with quick small guys in a possession-style offense in their attacking half, and not get punted every time one of these creative types gets on the ball?

  2. beautiful game, January 12, 2019 at 11:13 a.m.

    R2D...don't hold your breath on MLS officials protecting Amaya; their instructions are "selective officiating" and keep the whistles and cautions down until the last 10-minutes of the game. Amaya is very talented...after one MLS season he'll be making a euro-move, hopefully to Dutch football.

  3. frank schoon replied, January 12, 2019 at 1:24 p.m.

    BG, exactly...He needs to go to Holland, Ajax for they like Creative players...and he'll more there about the complexities of the game.....

  4. frank schoon, January 12, 2019 at 11:54 a.m.

    This is good news, I'm going to pay attention to him. But here is what the reader/coach should get out of Mike Woitalla's article, which to me is very informative if you can read between the lines.
    This kid is the perfect example  why 'Pay for Play' is not necessary, to the extend that it is too overemphasized and considered the only road to success.
    He learned playing with kids a 1 1/2 years OLDER on U6 team, in other words ,he learned to play with MIXED AGES of which most were older than he. This is ONE of the elements of PICKUP/STREET SOCCER-Mixed Ages!!
    " He just wanted to play", which means this kid embodies the spirit of the street soccer player in my days- just WANTED TO PLAY!! If kids want to play they will play anywhere, anytime,anyplace. Again another element of Street/Pickup soccer, the DRIVE to play!!! And that is why you find him playing at the park, in the house with friends, family and of course Mom and Da the Pickup soccer.

    Remember what Chronopolous, Director of the Developmental Academy stated, " He had the ability BEFORE HE CAME..and we just gave him a bigger platform to showcase his skills, provided all the resources as a club"...In other he didn't learn develop his game at the Academy or play for play but mostly on his own without the expensive pay for play.

    Here is another quote from Chronopolous," He played a lot of lower division". This means no fancy ,top level, youth teams on winning state cups teams and championships but instead he learned to play to improve himself without all the glistening.

    " He really wasn't into STRUCTURED ENVIRONMENT until he came to us at age 14"
    So if anyone thinks Pay for play is the answer can see it is not. It is when PICKUP soccer become the largest factor in the development of a youth, who is really into soccer, Pay for play goes by the wayside. I really feel sorry for all these parent paying thousands of dollar to have their kid go to these academies... This article proves you don't need to. Remember what Chronopolous stated,
    'HE HAD THE ABILITY BEFORE HE CAME TO US ", meaning an "UNSTRUCTURED ENVIRONMENT"!!!!



  5. frank schoon, January 12, 2019 at 1:01 p.m.

    Lookin back at Frankie Amaya's backround in how he attained his soccer abilities through Unstructured Soccer Environment and seeing how much money is wasted paying these Academies or Pay for Play by the parents, I also actually feel sorry for all these licensed coaches for all the money, time ,effort spend in being taught to think  the way the kids need to learn is through a structured environment, carried out through  "PROGRAMMED' coaching material as instructud by the Coaching School. In fact you don't need all this garbage, instead all a coach has to do is provide an environment, Unstructured, like Frankie Amaya's went through, for their kids to learn...you don't need a LICENSE but some common sense. Perhaps Frankie's father should write a  coaching book called "HOW TO DEVELOP YOUR KID THROUGH AN UNSTRUCTURED ENVIRONMENT".
    As far as I'm concernd these clubs need to restructure their youth development where kids learn in Mixed Ages.
    A comment about Chronopolous on his mentioning about where Amaya should either be a box to box #8, or #10, tells me he  doesn't think out of the box. This type of thinking has been around for 50years. I remember, when the Dutch '74 team became famous world-wide and Johan Neeskens, the right half, was used by coaches everywhere as how all right halfs should play... again not thinking out of the box but programming the player to play a certain way, a la Neeskens. Another example that turned out to be a complete failure, is how all the coaches in the world wanted copy Total Soccer by following and emphasizing how Rinus Michels trained, which was a lot of physical hard running and no emphasis on technique( SO NOW YOU KNOW WHY PLAYERS TODAY HAVE LESS SKILLS). The reason why Michels didn't emphasize Technical training was that all his players had great ,great skills, leading him to say "what can I possible teach them other than improve physical training. This lead to  the instructors of the coaching schools teaching these coaches the wrong methods of Total Soccer and as result programmed a bunch of licensed robots deemphazing skill training....

  6. Bob Ashpole replied, January 12, 2019 at 1:54 p.m.

    I figure those observers saw what they wanted to see in Holland. Too many people only look for validation of their own views. That is human nature, although it is not a path to success in a profession.

  7. Bob Ashpole, January 12, 2019 at 1:46 p.m.

    He went number 1 because they figure his contract will be bought.


  8. frank schoon replied, January 12, 2019 at 2:14 p.m.

    I haven't seen him play or ever heard of him, but if he's good and creative, mayby Ajax would be a good club for him to further develop...let's face it he won't develop in the MLS.

  9. Bob Ashpole, January 12, 2019 at 5:28 p.m.

    I agree that Ajax would be a great choice. Dortmund or Barca could be good too. Although both will have tons of competition for spots. I know what you think of Dortmund for development, but they do value and give first team playing time to young players, for the present at least. He is a little old for Barca, but they might give him a look. Apparently he is a 2-footed player that likes to take people on. Any club ought to be interested enough to take a look at him.   

  10. frank schoon replied, January 12, 2019 at 6:09 p.m.

    I can’t see him as a box to box type. Dortmund is too much run and gun for him as well. He needs to play for a team that builds up , moves the ball around. Ajax just bought a Mexican winger, young too...

  11. Wooden Ships, January 12, 2019 at 8 p.m.

    Neat article. Impressive too that he names Iniesta. Similar stature, technically skilled, great soccer brain. The tragedy here (not Amaya’s)is that we’ve had like players here for years and we’ve wasted time with the wrong players. Damn, the pace of change here is geologic. 

  12. frank schoon replied, January 12, 2019 at 8:04 p.m.

    AMEN!

  13. frank schoon replied, January 12, 2019 at 8:32 p.m.

    Ships, “Geologic”.... and just consider all of the ‘braintrust’ , the thousands of licensed coaches and the USSF coaching School,have  overlook ed this specific fact all these years, and is still the case, wasting time with employing the wrong players....

  14. Bob Ashpole replied, January 12, 2019 at 10:21 p.m.

    Tab looks for the technical skilled players. Hugo did too. And they both know what to do with technical skilled teams. I am sure there are more coaches out there somewhere comparable to them, but, however many there are, it could never be enough.

    What progress needs is a US club to blossom like Ajax did. Sort of a perfect storm of good soccer caused by bringing together the right people and let them innovate. 

  15. Wooden Ships replied, January 13, 2019 at 12:31 a.m.

    I agree with you Bob. Many of those types of coaches were overrun by the establishment and reinforced in most college programs. Bigger, faster, stronger thinking. Change isn’t going to be easy. Ideally, our national teams would all model this transition. 

  16. Mike Lynch, January 13, 2019 at 12:38 p.m.

    “Comfort on the Ball” wins again! 

  17. Wooden Ships replied, January 13, 2019 at 2 p.m.

    Yes it does.

  18. Mike Lynch, January 13, 2019 at 12:38 p.m.

    “Comfort on the Ball” wins again! 

  19. Bob Ashpole, January 13, 2019 at 5:51 p.m.

    Whenever I see one of these articles I think of don Lamb and his comments about the quality of the young players coming up. A couple of years ago I was skeptical, but hoping he was right. Every time I read about our emerging young players now I think: Lamb was right. 

  20. Craig Cummings, January 15, 2019 at 10:29 p.m.

    He  grew up 6 miles from me.

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