Jaap Stam was quick to call midfielder Frankie Amaya one of FC Cincinnati’s best players at the MLS is Back Tournament, as punctuated by the 20-year-old’s game-winning strike against Atlanta United in the second match of the group stage.
But the Dutch head coach also recognized that Amaya isn’t yet a finished product. It was only 18 months ago that Amaya entered MLS as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 SuperDraft after his freshman season at UCLA.
“The thing is working with players of a certain age, of a young age, and I've done it before as well, they've got ups and downs,” Stam said. “Sometimes it's going well, but then everyone needs to realize as well that sometimes there's also a period that it's not going that well. That's normal with a young player, and every player that's in progress that makes steps.”
Amaya interview on MLS Today:
"Frankie, there's still a lot of room for improvement," Stam added. "We're very lucky that we have him in our roster."
Amaya has already encountered some hurdles, not making the FIFA U-20 World Cup roster last spring despite helping the United States win the preceding Concacaf Under-20 Championship. There are club challenges, too, with Amaya now playing under his fourth manager since turning pro.
But Amaya showed bright moments in 19 matches (15 starts) a season ago, and now has started every Cincy game in 2020. He even has his first MLS goal to boot and it was a strike worthy of winning the AT&T Goal of the Week award.
Watch: Amaya's first MLS goal
“He's a player with ability on the ball,” Stam said. “He's courageous and he's not the biggest player on the pitch, but he's not afraid to put a tackle in and he wins a lot of important balls. He shows quality on the ball as well going forward, and you can see that he's got scoring ability as well if he gets into situations in front of goal.”
While excitement around Amaya is building, Cincy need to take care of business on Wednesday (8 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes; TSN in Canada) against the New York Red Bulls. They’ll automatically advance with a Group E win, since the Columbus Crew are already through and RBNY are level with Cincy on three points heading into the group finale.
As for other key players, Stam said DP striker Jurgen Locadia isn’t training with the group yet and midfielder Siem de Jong is progressing well. Even without those two big names, a big opportunity awaits for Cincy to log their first back-to-back-wins since July 6-July 13 of last season.
“It gives the players a bit of confidence,” Stam said. “You can see that the feeling's very good within the roster of players that we have. I've said it many times before, if you get a result, that does a lot more than having good training sessions."