SAN JOSE, Calif. – San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Tommy Thompson was warming up in the corner of Avaya Stadium during last weekend's game against Real Salt Lake when the two bodies came bearing down on him.
On the inside was defender Jamison Olave, the 6-foot-3 Colombian who has been an oak in the center of RSL’s defense for much of his time since landing in MLS six years ago.
On the outside was San Jose forward Quincy Amarikwa, who was giving up half a foot to Olave but refusing to concede anything in terms of the physical battle.
Quakes captain Chris Wondolowski played a ball into space for Amarikwa to chase down, with Olave in tow. Despite an apparent nudge in the back from Olave, Amarikwa used a back-heel to send the ball down the right sideline, at which point the two men girded for a massive collision. Amarikwa kept his balance and played the ball off Olave for a 67th-minute corner kick.
“It’s unbelievable,” Thompson told reporters this week. “You could see Olave lining Quincy up, to try to hit him. Quincy saw that coming and went toe-to-toe – well, shoulder-to-shoulder – but he actually held his own and even won the battle. To see that is motivating. It shows that someone who’s not 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3 can compete with those big center backs when it comes to the strength battles. Being a smaller guy, myself, I like to see that. I want to hopefully learn from him.”
Thompson might get another graduate-level seminar come Saturday, when the Quakes host Vancouver (10:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE in US, TSN in Canada). It’s likely that 6-5 Costa Rican center back Kendall Waston will anchor the Whitecaps’ defense – which will presumably leave him with the task of tracking the 5-9 Amarikwa, who has been leading the Quakes’ line ever since arriving via trade from Chicago in June.
“Quincy has been an absolute beast for us,” Wondolowski told MLSsoccer.com. “His holdup play is so strong. And I think he’s one of the strongest in the league. People see him as a smaller guy, but that doesn’t matter.”
Twenty minutes after his shoulder-to-shoulder battle with Olave, Amarikwa bested the 2010 MLS Defender of the Year to help set up the only goal in the Quakes’ 1-0 win against RSL. Although he seemed to come from an offside position on Victor Bernardez’s long free kick, the flag stayed down, and Amarikwa held off Olave long enough to knock a header back past the top of the penalty area. Matias Perez Garcia ran onto the ball and struck a shot that deflected off Olave and into the net, giving San Jose a lifeline in their chase for the Western Conference playoffs.
Amarikwa might be overlooked by casual observers because of his relative lack of height, but that doesn’t mean his talents are unknown through the league’s insiders.
- Get more Quakes news at SJEarthquakes.com
“People who’ve been around MLS for the number of years that Quincy has… I think they do appreciate that he plays a lot larger than he is,” Quakes coach Dominic Kinnear said. “If you were to ask Jeff Cassar, I think he would say after the game, ‘That’s the way I expected Quincy to play and to perform.’ I think some people who don’t know him maybe don’t give him that credit, but guys who’ve been around him know that he has that ability to play bigger than he actually is. Quincy runs to wrestle, almost, you know what I mean?”
The acquisition of Amarikwa has given Kinnear a weapon he hadn’t had previously this season: a bruising target man. Adam Jahn has the size but hasn’t seemed a good fit for the role so far in his MLS career. Mark Sherrod has some promise but battled injury for much of 2015, while Steven Lenhart – the Quakes’ only proven old-school No. 9 coming into the year – hasn’t played a minute because of a potentially career-ending knee problem.
Will the 27-year-old be able to carry the Quakes into the postseason? If not, it won’t be for lack of brute force.
“I’m telling you, this guy is one of the strongest guys you will ever see,” Wondolowski said. “He can surprise people, [or] people can know it’s coming – he’s that strong. He can still hold them off. I’ve been saying that since 2009; he’s one of the strongest guys you’ll ever see. . ... You don’t want to wrestle with him; everyone in the locker room, he’s one of the best wrestlers. He’s got that low center of gravity, strong legs, strong arms, core. He’s got it all.”