CHICAGO — Frankie Amaya knew he had a chance to be the first player taken off the board at Major League Soccer’s annual SuperDraft on Friday in Chicago. When FC Cincinnati elected to use a timeout before making the No. 1 pick, the UCLA midfielder just grew a little more anxious.
During the four-minute window FCC had to make the first pick, a representative of Los Angeles FC came over to the expansion club’s table of decision-makers proposing a trade to get the top spot.
Cincinnati, which begins MLS play as the league’s 24th team this season, needed more time to consider. It used the four-minute timeout that each team was afforded but ultimately decided to stick with Amaya. FCC made the 18-year-old Generation Adidas player its first ever SuperDraft pick — one of five made Friday over the first two rounds — and the No. 1 overall selection.
“With that timeout, I wanted time to expire already,” Amaya said in his first interviews with the media at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center. “I wanted the name, whoever it was. Thankfully it was me, but I wanted the name called. It was amazing, actually. I'm so grateful for that.”
FC Cincinnati then took Wake Forest senior defender Logan Gdula with the 13th pick of the first round and ended up trading the No. 16 and 25 picks to the New York Red Bulls for $100,000 in allocation money.
In the second round, FCC got Notre Dame midfielder Tommy McCabe at No. 29 and Michigan State goalkeeper Jimmy Hague at No. 30 before finishing up with Akron goalkeeper Ben Lundt at No. 37.
Amaya, a 5-foot-4 attacking midfielder, gives FC Cincinnati a much-needed piece on its defense-heavy roster. In 14 games during his lone season with UCLA, he scored two goals and assisted two others, and he brings the experience of playing with the U-20 national team.
When asked what separated Amaya from the other players the team was considering, FCC coach Alan Koch said it was his “huge upside.”
“He's a project,” Koch said. “He's still a young player, of course, but I think he's already shown in a short amount of time the talent he has. We are excited to work with him and see how far we can push him. He has certainly not reached his ceiling by any means.
“He's an amazing kid. He is still a kid, he is a young guy and he's a guy who's passionate and driven,” he added. “He's willing to work to achieve goals for himself and his family, and I'm excited to work with him. He fits the culture of our club, and I think we can get a lot out of him.”
Amaya didn’t want to try to project how he would fit in with FC Cincinnati but said he felt he had worked hard enough to earn the No. 1 spot in the draft. Coming to a new club should help him work into the lineup quicker than might have been possible at other places, he said.
“We're starting a new season, so I've got to work for it first,” Amaya said. “Nothing is given, so we will see where I fit in. Wherever he wants me to play, I will be happy to play there.”
Gdula was considered by some national writers to be a “steal” at No. 13, and the Wake Forest right back believes he fits well with the team’s other fullbacks.
The 22-year-old defender had one goal and five assists this season, his third as a starter and fourth overall.
“I think the type of fullbacks they brought in, I fit the same mold as a Greg Garza or Alvas Powell, so I definitely see where they are going with that trend, and I think my style of play does fit perfectly into what they are trying to do,” Gdula said.
Gdula was the most emotional of the five players that went to the podium for FC Cincinnati on Friday following their selection. He couldn’t help but think of his mother, who had him at age 18, dropped out of college and worked three jobs to raise him and give him opportunities to succeed.
Getting to MLS made her sacrifices seem worthwhile.
“It meant everything, just everything I worked for the last 22 years,” Gdula said. “My mom sacrificed so much for me and it's just a great moment, a great experience. I just wanted to show people what it was for me and what it meant to me.”
McCabe, who played three seasons at Notre Dame, adds depth at midfielder and came at decent value early in the second round, but goalkeeper seemed to be the more key position FCC targeted in the draft as a way to fill out that position group with young talent.
Hague and Lundt, a native of Germany, join a unit that already includes newcomer Przemyslaw Tyton, from Poland, and returning goalkeeper Spencer Richey, who had played with the club in the United Soccer League last year on loan from the Vancouver Whitecaps.
“Jimmy has a real good all-around game, performed well at the Combine, has played well all year,” goalkeeper coach Jack Stern said. “He's someone we were aware of and was always on our radar. We think he's going to come in, real hard working, fantastic attitude, can come in and help us. With Ben, we just see a huge upside. Both of them are physically commanding. Both fit the profile we look for in a keeper, so we see both having lots of potential in coming in to help us short-term and long term.”
Koch said the club should be done at goalkeeper now. He was pleased with how things went overall Friday.
“What we wanted to get out of today was obviously address the goalkeeping situation within our club and I feel very comfortable we did that today, and then we wanted to get some quality projects,” Koch said. “We use the word project all the time, but there are players in this draft that we think are projects but we feel very happy with the guys we picked. We got guys we're excited to work with and push them and see how far we can take them.”
FCC now has 27 players on its roster, which can only hold 30 after the preseason. Preseason camp opens Jan. 21.
Koch said the draftees will have the opportunity to fight for positions along with the others. Loans will be options for those who do not make the cut.
“We're getting close,” Koch said of the roster completion. “We need a few more pieces, but we're getting close. We're not finished today. Obviously we still have the third and fourth rounds and we still have other players we're looking at. We're continuing building and assessing. We're very excited to get on the pitch with these players.”