Quincy Amarikwa interview: Making moves and starting grooves – When sound and sense collide for Quakes’ showman scholar
When faith is invested in him, San Jose Earthquakes forward Quincy Amarikwa has shown before just how impressive he can be, with the air of extravagance that goes with his force and industry making him a great watch at his best, even if it’s merely one side to a multi-layered, young Major League Soccer veteran.
Since he was taken in the third round of the 2009 MLS SuperDraft by the Quakes, Quincy has gone on to play eight consecutive seasons in the league, ultimately returning to San Jose in 2015 after appearing for three other teams. Whether through his forward play, exuberant celebrations, or even his own video series, there has been entertainment throughout the way, but it has been a soccer road packed with junctions he could so easily have exited at.
As he battled to make his mark, he encountered his share of disillusion before finally becoming a starting figure at Chicago Fire, where he would produce at the most consistent level of his career to date. Coming back home to the West Coast last year, the Californian brought goals, assists and an added spark to the Quakes before catching the attention this season with a strike against champions Portland Timbers of such spectacular quality that it went way beyond reaching just avid MLS followers.
The hunger to push on to previously elusive levels on the field is one corner of a comprehensive picture that makes up the powerful 28-year-old. For about as long as he’s had a soccer ball at his feet he’s also had a business-tinted lens to look through. Included in his off-field pursuits is a soccer training equipment brand with a former teammate, his own online marketing company, and the release of his first book, to name but three.
The performer people have got to know is never short of expression, with his love of a dance move on show when he hits the net, and music flows in the background of his life, adding its own edge to his personal connections. The idea on this site is to open the door to the lesser-known side of players, with music talk the main theme.
Quincy always emphasises that his current standing has been a long time in the making, and while music has brought some extra life to teams he’s represented it also lies within his own routines and activities, as something of a backing track to the hours invested away from the ‘day job’ as a pro athlete.
“I work a lot, and I can’t listen to stuff with words, because then I concentrate on the words,” he explained. “Typically when I’m working I’m listening to classical music or jazz.”
“I have to actively participate in listening to music, so because of that, I can’t work and do that.”
Born and raised in Bakersfield, where he went to Liberty High School, Quincy attended UC Davis on a full-ride soccer scholarship and undertook a pre-med degree in Biological Sciences. During his collegiate career he ensured he was one of those to leave a lasting impression, as he scored 31 goals in 77 games over his four years and helped the Aggies to the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2008 for the first time in school history.
As a senior that year, he received Second Team All-America recognition and he and midfield teammate Dylan Curtis became the school’s first Division I All-Americans for the men’s soccer program. The picture of an athlete being drafted to a pro team and posing for photos with their new colours and the flashing lights of the big event surrounding them is pretty far from how it actually was for Quincy when he heard he’d been selected by San Jose in 2009. The setting was a bio lab as he noticed a string of congratulatory messages coming through on his phone, although even with the news he still had a class to finish!
Being drafted is hugely significant, but a player still has to make the team, and Quincy was used often in his rookie year by Quakes coach Frank Yallop. At the time he was traded to Colorado Rapids in April 2010 he had played 25 games, albeit only once from the start, and scored once with two assists.
He feels plenty has changed from the Quakes he left back then, and likewise, he has been able to develop much further also; in 2015 he was up there with the most creative players in MLS when it came to open-play attacking opportunities he contributed to. Quincy thinks back to the early DJs in his career, with a Jamaican international who was the 2009 Quakes’ top scorer and team MVP, as well as a Haitian goalkeeper from the Rapids.
In the case of the latter, the New York-born stopper is one of Quincy’s closest friends in the game, which is partly why he has no hesitation in sharing exactly what he thought of his track selections!
“Let’s see, the music guy when I was at San Jose originally was I think Ryan Johnson. When I was in Colorado, it was Stew Ceus, but he was the worst!
“He was the self-appointed DJ, but as soon as he’d play his first song he would lose his aux cord privileges. He was the worst DJ who thought he was the best, so I think that was the biggest influence; because he was so bad and would always pick music that guys hated it forced everyone to be more up-to-date with their music so they could unplug his phone and plug theirs in!”
In Quincy’s rookie year, San Jose had fallen comfortably short of the playoffs as they propped up the Western Conference. However, he would be part of a successful group in year two with a Colorado team that won the Eastern Conference before going all the way to MLS Cup glory, and 14-goal leading marksman Omar Cummings featured on here last year.
In June 2012, Quincy departed and his rights were claimed through waivers by New York Red Bulls, where he’d train with the team for two weeks before being traded to Toronto FC for a conditional draft pick. It was, however, his switch to Chicago in February 2013 in exchange for a first-round pick in the 2014 MLS Supplemental Draft which ultimately ushered in his most prosperous spell on the field.
Quincy’s first coach at pro level, Frank Yallop, was appointed as Chicago boss in October 2013, and as someone who knew what he was capable of it meant he gave him the chance to flourish with the Fire. He had scored three goals in 2013 without yet nailing down a starting place but the tables were about to turn in 2014.
Quincy led the team with eight goals in the league, also adding five assists as he started 29 of his 32 games in what could certainly be termed a breakout year. Having started his own ‘#BeatQuincy MLS Fantasy Challenge’ in which fans could take him on in the league’s fantasy game, he got his own video series produced by the Fire.
‘Quincy Time’ featured challenges sent in by fans, and also appearances from teammates, such as on-loan English defender Grant Ward, who had his knowledge of America put to the test. One-time Liverpool forward Florent Sinama-Pongolle was on the roster during that season and in his interview on here the former French international picked out Quincy as the teammate he’d choose to record a song cover with, due to his personality, open mind and ease at getting on the microphone.
On the subject of entertaining and performing, the first record Quincy had happened to come from one of the ultimate in those regards.
“Oh I remember that one – I bought Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ and it was the CD. How old was I?
“I don’t know, 11 or 12 maybe?”
While with Chicago, Quincy faced off against attacking counterpart and current LA Galaxy man Mike Magee in a ‘Name That Tune’ quiz to determine who got to keep their show – ‘Quincy Time’ or ‘Magic Time’? Never short on quickness on the field as a former track and field athlete, Quincy was just as rapid on the buzzer as he won the quiz and even had a move or two to throw in as the songs played.
He might not identify himself as the leading man for music in the locker room but Quincy has a handle on what’s popular and recalled once how he used to make beats for fun in his spare time with friends. When it comes to seeing artists on stage, though, he is more of a novice.
“The only live concert I’ve ever been to was I think back in 2009 and it was Jay-Z and Kanye West. I was most impressed by Young Jeezy, who I think was like an opening act.
“I didn’t realise how many songs he had that I liked and it was only through his performance that I was like, ‘Oh, I understand why people go to concerts now.’ Before I’d never been and I didn’t really have any desire to go to a concert because I didn’t get it.
“After that I was like, ‘Oh, this is pretty cool,’ but I haven’t been to one since.”
A Bakersfield Brigade player in the USL Premier Development League while in college, Quincy had not been back in the Sacramento area since he was helping lead the UC Davis team – that was until this year’s pre-season with San Jose. In a match away to the Quakes’ USL affiliate Sacramento Republic he scored both in a 2-1 win in front of a record crowd of 11,499 at Bonney Field.
Setting up the first of his brace in that game was a 20-year-old midfielder and fellow California native who was playing against his former loan team. The one-time Granite Bay High School standout is bidding to establish himself in MLS, although he already has a slot as the Quakes’ resident game-day DJ locked down.
“I think the guy who usually gets that title forced upon him is Tommy Thompson, to varying levels of satisfaction of other teammates! He fully holds that title because there’s a responsibility that comes with doing that and effort that you have to put in; to be up on music takes a lot of time and energy.
“For me with music, I’ve always been one that allows my friends to do all the hard work of finding and listening to songs and stuff and then I just steal their playlists.”
California was also the setting for Chicago’s 2014 season opener, in a topsy-turvy encounter with Chivas USA at the StubHub Center in Carson. The Fire rallied from 2-0 down to level, with Quincy grabbing the equaliser after a U.S. Under-23 international midfielder had started the comeback with his very first touch in MLS and just 49 seconds after coming on.
Ultimately it was to no avail, as Chivas won the game with an 88th-minute Bobby Burling goal, although it had been quite the grand entrance for Quincy’s teammate on the scoresheet. He describes why that player, on loan from Santos Laguna at the time, is also the number-one name who comes to mind for memorable vocalists he has played with.
“I’d say the only one would be Benji Joya, when I was in Chicago. He loves singing and was all about karaoke and would try to sing in front of us even when we didn’t want him to!
“He was trying to stand up and sing in front of everyone whether or not we wanted to hear him sing.”
Quincy has Nigerian heritage from his father and during the most recent off-season he went with him on a trip to the West African nation. Possessing dual citizenship, he has spoken in the past about his desire for national team opportunities, be it with the Super Eagles, or with the U.S.
Included in Quincy’s former track and field endeavours was the pole vault, and although soccer eventually emerged as a very real possibility for a career, his participation in the beautiful game almost ended at high school because he and his dad simply didn’t know about how the college recruiting process works. As it transpired, he was discovered by Aggie men’s soccer coach Dwayne Shaffer as a 17-year-old at a youth tournament in San Diego, and along with his ex-Colorado teammate Ross LaBauex, Quincy founded Perfect Soccer Recruit to help players receive the information they needed about getting such opportunities.
Together with the Chicago-born midfielder and 2009 National Champion with the University of Virginia, Quincy subsequently developed a soccer equipment and video skills training brand, Perfect Soccer Skills. LaBauex also made his select group as the conversation turned to which career teammates he’d recruit if he was ever to record a new rendition of a track.
“A song cover? It would probably be easier if I chose my ‘Raptors squad’ – that’s what we called ourselves at Colorado – so it’d be Joseph Nane, Andre Akpan, Ross LaBauex, Stew Ceus.
“We would probably cover like a Temptations song or something like that. We’d let Andre pick because he’s super-sensitive and feels like he’s a music connoisseur, so he’d be the one who’d probably determine what song we’d cover!”
It was a trade involving defender Ty Harden which saw Quincy return to San Jose last June and it meant coming home at a time when younger sister Kristen’s promising soccer career was beginning to gather more and more pace. After a four-year varsity career at Frontier High School, midfielder-turned-forward Kristen is headed to San Jose State University on a full-ride soccer scholarship, and like Quincy, one of her clearest qualities alongside her talent is her will to work for the team.
Her brother made an impact during his first season back with the Quakes, scoring six and assisting on four goals as he started 17 games. Recently returning after a hamstring strain sidelined him for four games, Quincy has a goal and three assists in his ten 2016 appearances to date, and in April he made the MLS Team of the Week for setting up Chris Wondolowski and Alberto Quintero’s goals in the 2-2 draw with FC Dallas.
What really made people sit up and take notice, though, was Quincy’s sensational effort from around 35 yards in the second game of the season. Hosting last year’s MLS Cup champions Portland Timbers, San Jose came out 2-1 winners at Avaya Stadium and Quincy’s goal was ultimately the decisive contribution.
After running with the ball from his own half and evading challenges, he unleashed an inch-perfect chip which flew beyond Adam Kwarasey in incredibly impressive fashion. The goal made it to number one on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays and with friends, family and fans sharing it all around social media, Quincy didn’t mind watching it back whenever he saw it come up!
During his career, he has scored close-range finishes, one-on-ones, strikes from outside the box, and even a flying hooked volley past Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando for Chicago. What about if he had a practice field to himself and he could choose any player from all-time to do some shooting with?
“I guess the same group of guys (as from his song cover); I had a lot of fun with those guys and those are my close friends since then. I play soccer but I didn’t watch a lot of particular players, so it’s not like I wanna play with a particular person – Messi or someone like that – to me that doesn’t really matter.
“So of those four guys, Stew was the goalie, so I’d want him in goal so we could just score goals, make fun of him and talk to him about how much better at finishing we are than him!
“That’d be fun.”
Quincy’s appreciation that a playing career doesn’t last forever was one of the drivers behind starting his first company, OBI Marketing, Inc. but in truth, he has had a lifelong knack for business and smart ideas, even charging his sisters when he was six to borrow books from his ‘in-home library’! In college, he began buying a range of different products from online marketplaces and selling them on, and he has put work into various ventures, although he is now attempting to take more of a CEO standpoint with his interests, rather than trying to take on all parts of his businesses.
Soccer had not seemed a viable future prospect until the end of his senior year in college and in those days he was focusing on his degree while contemplating medical school. At one time he hated reading, only for that to dramatically change, even leading to the recent release of a book he wrote about becoming a better soccer player.
Learning to embrace failure as a crucial part of learning has been key in his development, as an athlete and as a person. Quincy has had frustrating times in reserve teams and there have certainly been occasions where he felt passed up on, leading him to consider his options outside of playing.
It was, however, his determination for the game which triumphed, and ahead of this season he signed a new multi-year deal for Dominic Kinnear’s Quakes. He could often be described as a foil for attack-minded colleagues on the field, due to his physical prowess and hold-up play, and he rates how he helps others from not giving up as his biggest asset.
Away from the game, he likes providing services and products to people, but if he could go back now and offer some assistance to the younger Quincy in the form of advice, what would he want to say to that version of himself?
“If I could tell myself information now, I would say to continue doing what you’re doing, because you’ll find success. Don’t ever stop being open to learning and growing.
“I feel soccer has taught me that I have to be my biggest promoter; I can’t expect other people to do the work for me. It’s taught me that in learning and growing myself, in doing the right things, people will eventually catch on and follow suit, but I can’t expect it to be given.”
While Quincy’s form was a big point of encouragement for San Jose in 2015, they finished 7th in the Western Conference, one place and four points shy of a playoff spot. As ever, this year’s target is to be in the end-of-season mix and the team currently sits 6th after 14 games.
From a personal point of view, Quincy has spoken of wanting to ramp up his goal and assist count further, and some more moments of inspiration and entertainment along the way would most definitely not go amiss. He believes that getting traded by the Quakes all those years ago let him meet more people, which he is eternally grateful for.
We end along those very lines as Quincy becomes the latest of so many players on here to select a small-sided team with significant meaning to them. The idea is to think back over all those they have worked alongside in their career and to pick four players they would want in a 5-a-side team with them.
The reasons for selecting do not have to be purely based on ability, so it is completely down to the interviewee why they make their choices. With a certain World Cup-winning legendary French forward given a deeper midfield role in Quincy’s team, he built his line-up from front to back, with the first name on his team sheet evoking memories of a natural understanding struck up in 2013.
“At forward, I’d choose Sherjill MacDonald – I played with him in Chicago. I think that’s probably one of the players I had the most chemistry with in my entire soccer career; like scary good.
“I think that’s the time I was playing my best soccer, and then with him, just our styles of play matched really well. Unfortunately, the coaches at the time weren’t a big fan of it, so we never really played together.
“I feel like he was one of the most underrated DPs (designated players) I’ve played with, or like players I’ve played with since I’ve been in the league. At midfield… (thinking hard) this is good, small-sided, there’s so many different reasons you’d pick particular players.
“Midfield, I’d say (Thierry) Henry – I played with him for a little bit while I was with New York (Red Bulls) for a few weeks. Dude just sets you up so easy for tap-in goals; his vision and stuff is like absurd.
“He’s a forward but he played midfield, he got to do both, so he’d be my midfielder. I’m trying to think who else because in doing so you’d give up some defensive effort.
“At defence I’m putting Marvell (Wynne) because athletically he’s just ridiculous. He’s got the speed to cover stuff and he plays within his game; so he’ll get the ball to you, he won’t try to dribble out the back, he’ll just do his job.
“In goal, I’d have to go with Sean Johnson…just because he’s a beast.”
Quincy has written a book about becoming a better soccer player and fans can visit www.perfectsoccerplayer.com/perfect-soccer-player to have a free physical copy sent to their home.
If you would like to learn even more about Quincy and his life and ventures outside of soccer, visit www.quincyamarikwa.com.
To catch each of these interviews, you can follow me: @chris_brookes
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