Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Ronny Amaguaña’s commitment to soccer has ultimately paid off

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Photo courtesy of D.C. United
Wheaton High graduate Ronny Amaguaña (13) has traveled all over the world during his professional soccer career. On March 18, his travels brought him back home, when he played against D.C. United at RFK Stadium (above) in the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup as the starting right back for Jamaica’s Harbour View Football Club.
An educator named David O. McKay once said: ‘‘We find in the bitter chill of adversity the real test of our gratitude.”

Those words were seemingly spoken for Ronny Amagauña, and his appreciation for the game of soccer.

The sport has taken the 1996 Wheaton High grad all over the world since he moved to the United States from Ecuador nearly 20 years ago. Since graduating from high school, soccer has taken him from the Czech Republic to Honduras to Wilmington (N.C.), and now Jamaica, where he starts at right back for Harbour View Football Club in the country’s National Premier League — and those are merely the places he’s had to call ‘‘home” at one point, discounting the dozens of other tryouts he’s had worldwide. It’s taken him away from his family for almost all of his adult life, away from friends, and stripped him of stability. It’s made him a nomad.

And he’s thankful for it.

‘‘I just thank God I’ve been able to play the game so long,” said Amaguaña, 30. ‘‘I still call America home, but unfortunately as pro athletes you have to be on the move sometimes, and I’ve been traveling since I was playing ODP [Olympic Developmental Program, a national program for high school athletes] soccer as a kid. It’s been kind of a long journey and a hard journey, but the harder the fight, the sweeter the reward.”

The return for Amaguaña’s unwavering loyalty to the game has placed him in professional leagues for eight years. When The Gazette profiled the then-striker in May of 2002, he had just signed with the Wilmington Hammerheads of the United Soccer League D-3 Pro League (now called the USL Second Division) after stints in the Czech Republic’s top-ranked professional league, the Gambrinus Liga, Honduras for practice matches with Club Deportivo Maraton, and several tryouts in Honduras, Ecuador and the United States.

Since then, he, like always, has been on the go. After spending time with the Hammerheads, he moved onto the now-defunct Virginia Beach Mariners of the USL’s First Division in 2003, and also played on the D.C. United’s Reserves for two games this past fall.

In between were numerous tryouts, injuries, tragedy, and his big break.

After concluding his first season in the USL, Amaguaña planned on playing in indoor winter soccer leagues to prepare for his second campaign, but his agent had gotten in contact with Bull Bay Football Club (Jamaica) coach Barrington Gaynor, whose team had just been promoted to the nation’s premier league, the Kingston and St. Andrew Football Association. He played the winter of 2003 with Bull Bay, before returning to the states to play with the Mariners. During that second season, he fractured his ankle and missed extended playing time, but while out, Gaynor (who had moved on as an assistant coach for Harbour View), contacted him about a tryout. The two kept in touch for the better part of the next two years, while Amaguaña played in club and semi-pro leagues in the United States — such as captaining the Maryland Tigers of Premier Arena Soccer League — and South America.

Finally, he signed with Harbour View for the 2005-2006 season. Now in his second full year with the team, he is the only American on the roster, and a fixture in the starting lineup for the fourth-place Stars of the East (the team’s nickname), which have a 10-7-13 record with 10 remaining in the season.

‘‘He understands the game and he has a good camaraderie with the players,” said Harbour View head coach Lenworth Hyde. ‘‘I think he lost a little of his speed, but he makes up for it in his reading of the game. He’s a team person, and he can play anywhere on field.”

He’s also a family person, which has occasionally made his job difficult. Because Amaguaña’s played in so many different parts of the world — of Jamaica, he says: ‘‘you get used to it, definitely a lot of jerk chicken and steamed fish” — adapting to change of scenery has never been a problem for him.

But especially now, with the 10-1⁄2-month Harbour View soccer season (including preseason), he gets to spend little time with his family, including relatives in Ecuador and Maryland. But he had no choice during the 2006-2007 season, which should have been his second with the Stars of the East, when his father, Gerardo, fell ill and passed away. Amaguaña returned home to Silver Spring to be by his father’s side, and wound up missing the rest of the season.

‘‘I believe my brother made the decision to come home in the May of 2006 — he just kind of said that he needed to be here for dad,” said Jason Amaguaña, Ronny’s brother. ‘‘It’s really unbelievably honorable when you think that he put everything on hold to be with the family.”

Even in his return to Harbour View this season, family is still a priority. He missed three weeks of the season this past December to spend time with family in Ecuador, a cultural tradition in which his father’s life was celebrated one year after his death. And he got a special treat three weeks ago, when his team played D.C. United at RFK Stadium in the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup. The week before, United traveled to Kingston for the first leg of the tie, which ended in a draw, 1-1. In the return leg on March 18, however, Amaguaña and the rest of the 2007 Caribbean Football Union champion Stars of the East fell, 5-0.

It wasn’t an altogether regretful trip for Amaguaña, however, as he got to see his family for the first time in the New Year. Because Harbour View got into town the day before the match. It left him time to spend with many of his best friends, as well as his mother, sister and Jason, who coincidentally is an operations manager for D.C. United.

‘‘He had about 90 people out there cheering for him,” said Jason, ‘‘and even though everyone knows I work with D.C. United, I think everybody was kind of rooting for him a little bit.”

Soccer has taken Ronny Amaguaña far and wide since he can remember. He’s still in great shape, and still dreams of returning to the states to play in Major League Soccer, not only for the level of competition but proximity to family. But he’s also thinking about life after his playing career.

Not surprisingly, it still includes the sport that, through all the ups and downs, he’s always been true to.

‘‘I definitely hope to do this as long as I’m able to perform and produce — thanks to God that I’m still able to,” he said. ‘‘ As they say, there is life after football, but I’m definitely thinking about trying to move into coaching, to teach all the little stuff I’ve learned throughout my years. What can I say? I love the sport.”

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