A long-rumored move that began as a tampering tussle ended with a trick tweet on Tuesday afternoon.
At the close of a sponsored “pass the phone challenge” tweet on the official New York Red Bulls Twitter account, the final player to address the fans was none other than Franuel “Frankie” Amaya. Moments later it was confirmed that Amaya, a 20-year-old midfielder who was the first overall pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft, had joined the Red Bulls from FC Cincinnati for a $950,000 allocation fee that could eventually increase to $1,075,000.
The Southern California native Amaya arrives in Harrison having made 40 league appearances for Cincinnati and scored a single goal, a picturesque lob against Atlanta in last year’s MLS is Back Tournament. After being advertised as more of an attacking playmaker upon joining MLS from UCLA, Amaya has stood out more for his defensive qualities as a professional. But in a Red Bull team like the one being schemed up by former Salzburg academy coach Gerhard Struber in New York, this sort of versatility is prized and harnessed, with Struber noting Amaya’s dribbling and vision in comments earlier this week.
He can’t come soon enough for a Red Bulls team desperate for an attacking midfield operator following the messy exit of Kaku in the offseason. Cristian Cásseres Jr played in the most advanced midfield role in Saturday’s season opener against Kansas City to mixed reviews as the Red Bulls struggled to create through the center of the pitch. In the press statement announcing Amaya’s transfer on Tuesday, Struber directly hinted at Amaya’s utility in the team structure stating that “his technical skills and ability with the ball will give us more control and more options in transition and in the final third.”
Earlier in the offseason Amaya had requested a transfer away from Cincinnati, with FCC GM Gerard Nijkamp citing Amaya’s frustration at Cincinnati’s losing form since entering the league as the cause of the dismay. Nijkamp’s candid comments about the situation were rendered ironic by the next stage of the ordeal earlier this month, when The Athletic reported that Cincinnati had raised tampering charges against the Red Bulls and Philadelphia Union involving the pursuit of the already publicly-unsettled Amaya. Whatever disagreements existed two weeks ago were obviously resolved, and indeed resolved with some panache by the Red Bulls front office.
The Amaya move comes on the heels of the Andrew Gutman transfer-and-trade and a series of “try-before-you-buy” loan signings as the latest piece of baroque recruitment by Red Bulls sporting chiefs Kevin Thelwell and Denis Hamlett. It had been reported that the main snag on the deal’s completion was the desire of the Red Bulls to have Amaya sign a long-term contract rather than relying on rumored extension options in his existing deal - canny for a club currently in a legal battle over the validity of MLS-style extension clauses.
The resolution arranged by Thelwell and Hamlett in securing Amaya’s commitment appears to be a highly generous one for the Red Bulls. Amaya will play out the 2021 season on the Generation Adidas contract he signed upon being drafted - meaning he will not count against New York’s salary cap. Meanwhile, Amaya has signed a pre-agreement to begin a three-year contract in 2022 - a deal that ends with a (coughs) one-year extension option.
It would be a hometown debut for his new club if the UCLA product Amaya appears in the Red Bulls away game against the Galaxy on Saturday. But fans might have to be patient to see the midfielder in full flight. Amaya has reportedly been in New York since last week after being excused from Cincinnati’s preseason camp, and his current fitness levels are likely less than ideal for a Red Bulls team that put on an exhausting pressing display this past Saturday.
But he’ll be reaching full form again as a Red Bull, despite it all. Obstacle after obstacle was put in the way of signing Amaya, and surely Kevin Thelwell could have give up at any point over the last month and settled for a more intuitive trade, a cheap foreign transfer, or even doing nothing at all to replenish the attacking midfield position. But instead the club identified a player who fits their tactical identity and used every resource at their disposal to obtain him on the most favorable terms.
There’s no guarantee that Amaya will be a smashing success in this young, still-coalescing team. But after an era of ad hoc roster planning left the team a misshapen mess, Red Bulls fans can see moves like this and rest assured that somebody with a plan is in charge.