It’s part of the magic of footy mythology that even with 22 players on the field, every game seems to center around the actions of a few trolls or the one great Prince. The other 20 or so characters stay in the background. But what makes the mythology live and move through time is that inevitably the seemingly inconsequential side characters develop their own story.
In Chicago, right now, that story is Quincy Amarikwa. For five years, his role in the fight scene was as a spear-holding extra, stabbing at people now and then as the camera panned by overhead. But now, the guy is hot. He’s wearing face paint and screaming at people from his horse. I mean he’s not only, finally, getting a run of starts, but he’s already matched his top goals number in April. He’s got not one but two hashtags of his own, he’s running an internet marketing consultant business, he’s teaching Sparky how to do laundry, and he’s even risen to Fantasy fame.
After another goal in the Battle of the Franks in Montreal, people all over the league are taking notice. Not that Amarikwa is hiding. That’s not his style. Saturday’s matchup against former manager Frank Klopas brought a lot of cute nostalgic quotes, but Amarikwa was the only one who cut through the platitudes, saying, “Obviously it was nice to show him why I should have played more last year.”
It’s something that Amarikwa is used to, this approach of proving yourself. In a recent interview, he explained his approach as a substitute: You got five minutes to prove it, so prove it. Maybe that’s why his substitute appearances were always marked by an almost impossible level of energy, physicality, hustle, and pace. He might only have five minutes, but he would bust those five minutes apart.
You can see as much in highlights from his past appearances. Turning guys, taking people on, ripping shots - no matter who the great Prince was in a particular game, Amarikwa demanded your attention. He was jumping in front of the camera, demanding his own scene. In San Jose, Colorado, and Toronto, fans loved the guy because he scared opponents - he’s direct, pesky, tireless, sharp elbowed, and jacked. In his long haired days he looked like a Samoan rugby player. With his low center of gravity, giant thighs, and changes of direction, he now resembles an NFL fullback.
The problem was goals. Amarikwa was never a prolific scorer. Scoring 4 goals in 5 seasons as a striker isn’t enough to get yourself a starting job.
And so, for five years, his MLS job description read something like this: “Impact substitute, sparkplug; i.e. ability to change game and create chances - not necessarily the one to take those chances.”
That is, until last year, when Amarikwa was already on his way to dropping the spear and grabbing his own horse. The two bikes against Montreal (HE BIKES WHEN HE WANTS) may have been overshadowed by the excruciating miss in Toronto in September, but he continued to impress. His scoring rate per 90 minutes shot upwards.
Instead of contributing intangibles, he was contributing goals. The flying side volley against RSL helped turn the Fire’s season around, and looking back now, it feels like an apt little analogy for his career so far. Because at first glance you watch it and you say, ok, a nice athletic goal late in a game, those are important. Good work. But then you watch the replay and you realize just how quick, how airborne, how technical the finish was. And you say to yourself, wait a minute, wow, that’s a real goal scorer’s goal.
This year, Amarikwa has started the season with three goals and an assist in five starts. He’s the hottest player in the squad. And with manager Frank Yallop rewarding players’ good form with minutes, Amarikwa is currently keeping DP Juan Luis Anangono on the bench.
It looks like Amarikwa found the efficacy he was lacking. He’s transformed his old five minute blitz - all fight, opportunism, and “eff you” - into a 90 minute attack. It’s the step we all wanted, and his mouthwatering partnership with Mike Magee is only just beginning.
What it means is that now, suddenly, the former side character Amarikwa isn’t only creeping into the Prince’s stories. He’s developing a myth of his own.
Ben Schuman-Stoler is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @bsto.