That is how Amarikwa describes himself, anyway.
“It’s an undefined role, but that’s okay. I am defining it,” he said Friday, 48 hours before United will open against defending champion Atlanta at Audi Field. “I like to joke [that] I am the first unofficial MLS pool player for mental strength.”
More than two weeks after arriving at training camp, Amarikwa, 31, signed a one-year contract Thursday.
On match day, as the only other rostered forward besides Rooney, he will fill a void left by Darren Mattocks, who did not embrace the back-up gig last year and moved to FC Cincinnati.
In the locker room, on road trips and during downtime, Amarikwa wants to serve a broader function.
“My job in the locker room,” he said, “is to be an asset to the players who don’t have the level of experience in the league as I do.”
He is not necessarily talking about on-field experience; he is talking about understanding the mind-bending complexities of MLS. To name a few: targeted allocation money, general allocation money, waivers, moving expenses, the limits of free agency and the massive discrepancies between minimum salaries and designated players.
“It’s necessary for them to understand so they can better come together instead of wondering why someone is unhappy at this particular time because he is worried about paying his rent,” said Amarikwa, who since 2015, has served as a player rep in the union. “Some guys don’t know that is an issue for other guys, and that can create rifts in the locker room. It’s bridging that gap, and because I’ve been in the league as long as I have and spoken to as many players as I have, I can facilitate that integration.”
Amarikwa has been around: San Jose, Colorado, New York Red Bulls (without signing a contract), Toronto FC, Chicago Fire, San Jose again and Montreal for the last three months last year. He has swapped teams during the season four times.
“I like to understand how guys think, why they make the decisions they do and how they are navigating their current situations,” he said. "It’s figuring out how we can find a win-win for all of us because ultimately, if we all do well, I’d like to believe we would all be rewarded.”
Amarikwa has bonded right away with two other newcomers with similar family situations: He, goalkeeper Chris Seitz and defender Chris McCann have pregnant wives, all of whom are expecting this summer.
Amarikwa’s diversified role also applies to careers after soccer. He and his wife are involved in three businesses, including an asset management firm. He hopes to teach younger players to plan their futures beyond the sport.
“I use soccer as a tool to help facilitate an education,” he said. “The one thing I know for sure is my soccer career will come to an end one day. It might be in one year, it might be in 10 years, but I know it will end. So while I am here, I should learn everything I can and do everything I can on the field.”
On the field, Amarikwa said he will embrace the reserve role.
“I understand what is necessary in terms of doing the work to be ready but also understanding you may never be called on. It really comes down to mental strength. Many players struggle with that; their confidence is tied to their playing time and ability on the field. … It’s a valuable role and necessary role, and very few people are willing and able to do it.”
Amarikwa was a regular starter from 2014 to 2016 and a reserve most years. From a statistical standpoint, his best season came in 2014 with eight goals and five assists for Chicago.
United sees value beyond numbers.
“He is capable of scoring goals in this league, but it’s also some of that other stuff that we think suits our team,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “He’s not a lot of fun to play against. He is relentless. He causes a lot of problems for opponents. He understands his role, and he’s selfless in the group.”