Among all the amenities listed in the player handbook for the MLS is Back tournament, one rather simple question goes unanswered. Where can a player get a haircut?
Given the social distancing mandates, the uncertainty surrounding hair care options isn’t a surprise. Yet for the players on FC Cincinnati, this isn’t an issue. Frankie Amaya has them covered.
Amaya, 19, has become the team’s in-house barber, trimming the locks of players like Haris Medunjanin, Kendall Waston, Greg Garza and Jurgen Locadia. “Nobody would trust me in the beginning,” Amaya told ESPN in an exclusive interview. “Now I’ve got clients lined up left and right.”
Stories from the coronavirus pandemic are filled with people who have developed new skills, and Amaya is no different. When the pandemic first took hold and forced MLS to shut down back in March, the FC Cincinnati midfielder said he was “pretty bored” and along with his girlfriend, Maricarmen Reyes, got a set of hair clippers. Reyes soon went to work on her boyfriend’s hair. The results weren’t exactly what he hoped for.
“It was pretty bad, kind of terrible,” said Amaya. “She gave me blond hair too.”
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And yet Amaya was inspired. He went back home to Southern California for a few weeks to help out his parents, with the clippers in tow. He soon took to cutting the hair of his dad, his brother, uncles and friends with more success. So when it came time to venture into the MLS is Back bubble, and with loads of time on his hands, Amaya soon offered to cut the hair of his teammates.
Initially, there wasn’t a ton of demand for Amaya’s services. Equipment manager Andrew Kolb was the first brave soul to put his head literally in the hands of Amaya. The Santa Ana native did a good enough job that Medunjanin was the first player to take the plunge.
“[Medunjanin’s] already married, so he doesn’t have to impress anyone,” Amaya joked.
At least eight other teammates and staff have since followed suit, and Amaya has been showing off his work on his Instagram account.
The cost might have something to do with the surge in demand. At present Amaya isn’t charging his teammates anything, though he will accept tips. Medunjanin was the most generous, shelling out $50.
“Most of the guys are pretty cheap,” Amaya quipped.
But it does allow time for Amaya to get to know his club mates better so they can swap stories, bond and of course ratchet up the banter.
“He definitely used some other players as lab rats before me and I had to give the final grade for him,” said Garza. “And once I sat down, I’ll say he probably took about two and a half hours on my hair. He was probably shaking at times thinking I was gonna eat him alive.”
Amaya was having none of it, insisting he spends about 45 minutes on each of his teammates.
“Garza is such a liar,” said Amaya with a chuckle. “He’s always talking smack on me. He comes in to get a haircut and he’s all quiet. Then a week later he comes in and he’s starts more smack.”
Now Amaya has earned his teammates’ trust. Medunjanin has even become a repeat customer.
“It’s all about improvement,” said Amaya.
That goes for the midfielder’s play on the field where his sheer skill is starting to garner even more attention than, well, his shear skill. Amaya bagged the lone goal — and his first as a professional — in Cincinnati’s 1-0 win over Atlanta United, a blast from outside the box that got the better of Atlanta keeper Brad Guzan.
“It’s been a long journey without a goal, and to get the first one was very special,” Amaya said.
Amaya’s path as a professional has been winding as well. FCC hasn’t exactly been a bedrock of stability since taking the field for its first MLS game last season. In the 16 months since that match, FCC is already on its third full-time manager, with Yoann Damet twice taking the reins on an interim basis.
Amid all this upheaval, Amaya has attempted to make the transition from college to the pros. He made 19 league and cup appearances last year, sometimes as an attacking midfielder, sometimes closer to his own goal. It was also Amaya’s first time living away from family. Even in college when he was at UCLA, home was just 45 minutes away. Amaya counts homesickness as his biggest obstacle during his rookie season.
“When I came when I first came to Cincinnati, I knew I wasn’t coming home for maybe eight or nine months,” he said. “It was a whole different thing, I didn’t really know how to cook or do my laundry and stuff like that, pay my bills. It was hard just leaving home and my family that I’m so used to being with.”
This season Amaya has found life more settled off the field, and used the quarantine period to work on his fitness when he wasn’t improving his barber skills. On the field he has spent more time in a two-way role, where he’s asked to do a lot of running for the likes of Medunjanin, who serves as the team’s deep-lying playmaker. Amaya was initially given that position under Damet and that has continued new manager Jaap Stam, where he’s done plenty to impress his new boss.
“Frankie is a player with ability on the ball, he’s courageous,” Stam said on a recent conference call with reporters. “He’s not the biggest player on the pitch, but he’s not afraid to put the tackle in. He wins a lot of important balls and he shows quality on the ball going forward.
“There’s still a lot a lot of room for improvement with Frankie. And we’re very lucky that we have him in our in our roster.”
Garza, who took it upon himself to be Amaya’s mentor in Cincinnati has seen growth in Amaya as well, in all manner of ways.
“He’s always watching his YouTube videos of how to cut hair, how to learn, how to get better, and I think that transfers with his soccer as well,” he said of Amaya.
“You learn how to get yourself into a routine, get yourself into a certain way of playing, a certain way of thinking as a pro and it’s cool to see when somebody else has a certain passion within themselves.”
Even in the wake of the victory over Atlanta, Cincinnati is a team that has an immense amount of work to do, especially in terms of the team’s roster construction.
Amaya is emerging as one of the building blocks.