Anthony Ampaipitakwong was overlooked in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. And because of that, opponents might want to start paying attention to him when the San Jose Earthquakes come to town.
After a slow start to his rookie MLS season, the former University of Akron midfield marshal - selected by the Quakes in the second round, 33rd overall - Ampaipitakwong has appeared in five of San Jose’s last six matches. Saturday in Chicago, he put on his most effective pro performance.
Coming on at the half in place of Joey Gjertsen, Ampaipitakwong delivered a pair of dangerous crosses into the box - one off a corner kick, the other from the run of play - to set up headed goals from Ramiro Corrales and Chris Wondolowski in the Quakes’ 2-2 tie against the Fire. They were the first MLS points for Ampaipitakwong, and helped keep San Jose unbeaten in their last four league matches.
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Ampaipitakwong was the last of seven Zips to be taken in the draft, and five of his more heralded teammates were among the first eight selections. Concerns about his size - listed as 5-8 and 160 pounds - and that his possession-based play wouldn’t translate to the rough-and-tumble MLS world helped drive the 22-year-old into the arms of the Quakes, who didn’t have a first-round pick after trading it to Columbus for Steven Lenhart.
Sixteen of the other 17 MLS franchises passed on at least one chance to pick up Ampaipitakwong, who hasn’t forgotten that fact.
“I never try to think of that, I’m so happy to be with the San Jose Earthquakes,” Ampaipitakwong told MLSsoccer.com. “But at the same time, yeah, it’s in the back of my mind. It’s kind of a motivational factor. That’s something personal and individual, a fire that burns for me inside: ‘You passed me up, and I’m going to show you what (the Quakes) got as a player.’”
What they got was a guy who notched 11 assists last year for Akron’s first NCAA championship team. Although Ampaipitakwong was perhaps thought of as being more of a wheel-greaser when he came to San Jose - the guy who makes the pass that sets up the assist, who keeps the offense humming with crisp ball movement - he showed against the Fire that he can take more direct action, dropping the ball in open space at the top of the 6-yard box and letting his teammates go to work.
“We have two powerful people in the box,” Ampaipitakwong said. “Steve (Lenhart), he’s going to get on top of any header, and Wondo, anytime you put the ball in a dangerous area, Wondo’s going to find it and he’s going to put the ball in the back of the net. With two dangerous guys like that, you’ve just got to find the right spot in the box and put it in there.”
Ampaipitakwong did that twice, and perhaps most importantly, did it from a spot on the pitch that has been almost a black hole for the Quakes this season. Coach Frank Yallop has tried half a dozen players wide right without finding success - until now, perhaps.
“Ampai came into the league very mature, with a great soccer mind,” Wondolowski said. “I think he’s going to keep growing.”
Ampaipitakwong said his confidence has blossomed over the Quakes’ first 11 matches, allowing him to overcome his nerves and build a chemistry with his teammates. The question is whether that growth, combined with the two assists, is enough to put him in the starting lineup next week.
“It’s just growing as the season goes on,” Ampaipitakwong said of his game. “As a whole, as a team, we’re just starting to click more and more. We just have to keep it going against Houston.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. On Twitter: @sjquakes