It takes but a minute of speaking with Quincy Amarikwa for it to become abundantly clear that at heart, he isn’t just a soccer player. He is an entrepreneur. He inherited a hard-working ethos from his father, an immigrant from Nigeria, and applies this grit and opportunism in both his soccer career and business ventures.
“I like starting businesses, creating things and providing services and products to people,” he told Quakes Talk in an exclusive interview at Avaya Stadium on Tuesday. “I was thinking that I need to approach my brand and what it is I’m passionate about inside and outside of soccer the same way I do any other business venture. Social media and all these different platforms are a great way to promote those things and connect with people and let them see all the other things I do.”
Professional soccer player is just one of the hats he wears, and in conversation his self-aware, composed demeanor is starkly contrasted with the highly animated figure he cuts on a football pitch, although he maintains the same go-get-it attitude.
His name was recently splashed all across his social media channels and he was flung into the spotlight of Major League Soccer and beyond after his wonder-goal against the Portland Timbers three weeks ago. He often finds himself re-watching the goal, which was No1 on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays list.
“After the game I had a lot of notifications on all my channels as well as text messages from a lot of people showing support and saying that they saw the goal,” he says.
“I watched it a lot because it just kept showing up in my news feed on Facebook. A lot of friends, family and fans were sharing it and a lot of soccer outlets picked it up and showed it everywhere. It’s cool to see so many people having this much fun with it.”
The twenty-eight-year-old wants to try and leverage the opportunity to promote his soccer training equipment brand, Perfect Soccer Skills, which he founded with former Colorado teammate Ross Labauex.
Chasing the Dream
Amarikwa, a stocky center-forward, bullish in demeanor on the pitch, never planned on becoming a professional soccer player. Soccer, he says, didn’t really become an apparent career path until the end of his senior year in college. He was much more focused on finishing his Biological Sciences degree at UC-Davis and was interested in starting his own business. He also played track-and-field and competed in pole vault.
“I never really was thinking about professional sports, I was thinking more about potential business ventures and finishing my degree and deciding whether or not I should go to medical school. Soccer just happened to be something I enjoyed at the same time,” he says.
He never even considered himself to be a sports fan until he was drafted by the Earthquakes in 2009.
He was in biology class in his senior year at UC Davis during the 2009 Major League SuperDraft. He was halfway through class when phone began to buzz. Then again, and again, his phone pinged. He looked down to find that he had been drafted by the San Jose Earthquakes in the third round of the draft, 32nd overall. He still had to finish class before celebrating the news.
“It snowballed from there and once I got my contract and got in the league, I starting thinking if this is what I was going to decide to do, I should my full effort into it and see where it would take me. Here we are eight years later.”
It wasn’t until 2014, however, that Amarikwa became a regular starter in the league. He made more than twenty appearances in his rookie league for the Earthquakes, but the road from there was bumpy and just a year after signing for the team, he was traded to the Colorado Rapids. Why wasn’t he a good fit for the Quakes at the time?
“That’s a good question,” he muses. He starts, then pauses to find words. “I think at the time, the staff was looking for more veteran or senior players, and they saw an opportunity to get something for me on a trade. Looking back, I think they regretted that decision, but for me it was good because I got to experience more and meet a lot of guys who I know will end up being lifelong friends. For me, it ended up being something I greatly benefitted from.
“I’ve understood the league from the beginning when I came in — things are fickle, things change a lot, there’s a lot of turnover. The fact that I was able to be traded showed that I was valuable and I think that’s a big reason I have been able to stay in the league for as long as I have.”
He joined the Colorado Rapids and won the 2010 MLS Cup in Colorado, but only scored three goals in thirty-one appearances during his two years at the club, mostly from the bench. In the summer of 2012, he was waived by the club and bounced around between the New York Red Bulls to Toronto FC, where he spent an unsuccessful season, before moving to the Chicago Fire.
He was already twenty-five and his career was at risk of stalling. People began to doubt him.
“I’d done the hard work, been dedicated to my craft and loyal to the league that started me out on my professional path,” Amarikwa said in a blog post from 2014. “Unfortunately, I saw players (in my opinion) not half as good as I was, making literally 10 times as much as I did, and playing every single minute of every game.
“I felt as though I met all the necessary requirements to get my “promotion” (playing games to show my true value) but for one reason or another, I was continually passed up. Continually being passed up for recognition or promotion can become more and more discouraging, as I’m sure you know. Through experiencing this, however, I realized I needed to re-evaluate my situation.”
He considered other options outside of MLS, even outside of soccer altogether. Eventually, however, he decided to dig in and get to work.
“There are many different things you can do, but sitting back and blaming those around you and not taking action isn’t one of the things I stand for,” he says.
“The big reason I’ve been around as long as I have is because I don’t let what other people think or say affect my effort. My effort is always going to be 100% every single time. I can’t look at myself in the mirror knowing that I have haven’t given my best in a given situation and I know that no one is going to be a harder critic of themselves than me. If I’m approaching it that way, effort is a requirement, not something that I need to be motivated to maintain. When you do the right things for long enough, people will start to recognize or notice it. Maybe they’ll think it has only just started happening, but as long as you know you have been doing it all along, you’ll figure out a way.”
It’s Quincy Time
At Chicago, Quincy was placed into the role of super-sub. The goals started flowing in and he scored more in his two years at Chicago than in the previous five years of his professional career. He scored his first goal at Chicago before he earned his first start, and the adoring fans began to call his time on the pitch, “Quincy Time.”
Simultaneously, he began his own MLS Fantasy Challenge, #BeatQuincy, to leverage his soccer career to promote his businesses outside of soccer. This segued into his own YouTube show, appropriately named Quincy Time.
Then Frank Yallop, the man who had drafted Quincy with the Quakes, was brought in as head coach in Chicago. Quincy views this as the moment his career began to take off.
“If you look at my time in the league, I never had as many minutes in a year as I did my rookie season and that was under Frank Yallop,” he says. “The biggest determining factor of your playing ability in this league is the level at which the coaching staff sees you as their main guy.
“I was kind of put into that role as a super-sub, and I think that was one thing that was holding me back because teams were looking at me as a super-sub. Then I was coming in and fighting for a starting spot, but that might not have been the role they had brought me in to play in the first place.
“That’s why I bounced around a bit, but it wasn’t until Yallop came in [my career began to accelerate]. He knew my ability and my effort and gave me the opportunity to show that I could do it over the course of a season. That’s when things turned around, everything up to that point I had maintained the same and was just waiting for an opportunity.”
In the 2014 season, he made twenty-nine starts for Chicago and scored eight goals.
He blogged a lot during this season and says self-awareness is a big part of his consistency.
“I’m not a very ritualistic based person, I don’t need to wear a certain pair of socks or shoes or something like that, but I think self-awareness is a big part of that and knowing what I need at a particular time,” he says. “Maybe it’s more rest, maybe it’s more work on my own, maybe it’s more time in the ice bath working on recovery. Being honest with yourself, both physically and mentally, is very important to performing at a high level consistently.”
He made a promising start to the 2015 season, playing in the Quakes’ inaugural MLS game at Avaya Stadium, but the signing of Kennedy Igboananike from Swedish club AIK pushed Amarikwa out of the starting lineup.
“I’ve been in the league long enough, I’ve been traded enough times where I know when the front office is looking to make a move,” he says. “But I didn’t know I was going to end back up in San Jose and when I found out the news I was excited. I was familiar with the area and closer to family, whom I had been away from for the past couple years.
“My sister had happened to be committing to San Jose State University on a full ride soccer scholarship so it all came together and the big thing was hoping to perform well enough to the point where they’d offer me a contract to stay and play the next couple years here.”
In just seventeen appearances, he scored six goals, although he couldn’t push the Quakes over the line and into the playoffs. Nevertheless, he’s confident heading into this next season, and it is very apparent on the pitch. His work ethic seems to drive the Quakes forward and in their season opener agains the Colorado Rapids, he was undoubtedly the man of the match, terrorizing 6’7” center-back Axel Sjoberg. Despite his small stature of 5’8”, he enjoys muscling up against bigger defenders, disrupting their confidence in physical battles.
Amarikwa for America (…or Nigeria)
Before the beginning of every year, Amarikwa sits down and writes his expectations and goals for the season.
This campaign, he’s pushing for twelve goals and eight assists and of course, a spot in the playoffs. If he’s lucky, he aims for a national team call-up from either the United States or Nigeria. He’d accept whomever called first.
In the meantime, though, he has to get back to work. His goal against Portland propelled him into the spotlight and he wants to grab that opportunity with both hands, in his soccer career as well as his business ventures.
“I’ve really been focusing on my soccer training equipment brand and learning how to run an actual company. Before I was always running a business and kind of doing all the things [on my own] and wearing different hats, but now I’m at the point where I’m trying to be more of a CEO — delegating tasks, creating systems and leveraging the team I’m building around me to reach more people and create more content,” he says.
Although the blogging has been temporarily put on hold, he hopes to start up again in the near future. And when Amarikwa is motivated to do something, not much can get in his way.