One of the turning points in the San Jose Earthquakes 2015 season, one that almost helped the team make the playoffs for the first time since 2012, was the summertime acquisition of forward Quincy Amarikwa. Sent to San Jose from the Chicago Fire in exchange for seldom used defender Ty Harden, Amarikwa made the most of his new surroundings and cemented himself into the Quakes starting line-up from the get go.
The 28-year-old had started his MLS career with the Earthquakes, signing a rookie contract in 2009 following a stand-out four-year college career at U.C. Davis. Amarikwa was dealt to the Colorado Rapids the following season, playing as part of the club's MLS Cup winning team in 2010. After Colorado, he spent time with Toronto FC before going to Chicago, all the while trying to make his mark but never really getting the opportunity to be a consistent started. His homecoming to San Jose last July changed all that, and this past off season, Amarikwa signed a new contract that will keep him with the Quakes for many years to come.
"I've been grinding in this league a long time, and I've been moved around a bit," said Amarikwa to Center Line Soccer this week. "It's rewarding to finally have a coaching staff that put their confidence behind me in the form of a contract, in the form of the compensation, and in the form of a long term deal that will keep me somewhere for a while. That only solidifies my desire to work hard for the club and for the coaching staff and win games and make the playoffs."
Amarikwa scored 6 goals and added 4 assists in 17 appearances, all starts, for the Quakes in 2015. Only Chris Wondolowski scored more goals for San Jose last season, as the Earthquakes offense took a turn for the better when Amarikwa paired up with him at forward.
"He's such a good partner for Chris," said head coach Dominic Kinnear. "You can't rely on Chris getting it done up top alone. There are a lot of tough, physical center backs in this league, and Quincy takes a beating when he's out there. But it opens up some holes for other people, so it was a good pick-up for us last year, and we are glad he's back this year."
In addition to his offensive output, which also included three drawn penalty kicks, Amarikwa took the brunt of the abuse from opposing defenses, finishing in the top-ten in MLS in fouls suffered in 2015. The constant contact took a toll on the 5'9" forward, and he admitted to taking a lot of the off-season off to heal his body ahead of another challenging campaign. However, the physicality is something Amarikwa has never shied away from, and he knows that 2016 is going to bring more of the same.
"I'm in a unique position because I play a hold-up striker role," said Amarikwa. "My job is to hold the ball up and allow time for our offensive players to get into the attack. Obviously, I want to score goals as a forward, but my job is also to get the rest of the team involved as well and create chances for the players around me. That's what I did last year, and that's what I plan to do this year too."
Wondolowski, his partner in the starting line-up to end last season and to start the current campaign when the Earthquakes host the Colorado Rapids on opening day, has nothing but praise for Amarikwa. Known himself as an incredibly passionate player on the pitch, Wondolowski fully appreciates the willingness with which Amarikwa dedicates himself to providing every edge he can to his teammates.
"With his attitude and mentality, he's a bulldog out there," said Wondolowski. "He wants to fight, he wants to battle, and he's also one of the strongest people in the league. I know he's not one of the biggest, but he's very strong out there. He's also very quick and can stretch the field, which is a very nice attribute to have. He is able to help me out and the team around him when he is able to do that."
Amarikwa, who has never been a consistent starter over his seven-year MLS career, will also need to continually prove to the Earthquakes coaching staff that he deserves his place in the Starting XI each and every week. With the likes of Designated Player forward Innocent still making his way back to full fitness following a season-ending knee injury last year, Amarikwa might want to keep one eye over his shoulder. Used to such pressure, he instead plans to keep his focus straight ahead and let his play do the talking.
"I wouldn't say I feel the pressure too much," said Amarikwa about the other talented players on the team looking for minutes. "My entire career as been about trying to break into a position where you find a lot of DPs and big money players starting in front of you, where you have to really perform consistently and at a high level for you to get a look over those guys. If I continue to do what I'm doing, the results will follow, and that will carry on for the rest of the season, and I'm hoping beyond that."
Beyond the 34-game regular season are the MLS Cup playoffs, something that is a major goal for Amarikwa to help the Earthquakes reach in 2016. He knows he can't do it alone, so he will simply go about his business in such a matter that he hopes others will follow. One person in particular is sold on Amarikwa: Wondolowski expects great results out of the partnership between the two at the top of the Quakes formation.
"Quincy is a great player and his work ethic is contagious," said Wondolowski. "I love being able to play with him. We are starting to understand each other's movements offensively, but also defensively, which is very important. The way we go back and go about hunting the ball. It's great to be on the same page as Quincy, and it's great to see him grow and become the player he has become."