Austin Amer has lofty goals. The 20-year-old native of New Tampa is now in his second season as a professional soccer player with Orlando City B, which is in the second tier United Soccer League.
Eventually, Amer says he would like to move on to play overseas, where the passion for soccer, as well as the paychecks, are higher.
For now, like all of us, Amer is in his own little bubble. His world revolves around getting up early, driving to the training facility, filling out a coronavirus questionnaire, training before the midday heat becomes unbearable and heading back to his apartment for the rest of the day.
His short-term goals during the pandemic are much smaller: “Going to Publix is the big highlight of the day,’’ Amer says.
If he’s going to be in a bubble, it might as well be a soccer bubble.
Amer grew up in Hunter’s Green, where there was always a soccer ball at his feet. By the time he was four, he was playing rec league soccer for the New Tampa Comets. One of the league’s directors noticed Amer’s talent and suggested to his father, Fred, that Austin practice with a group of seven-year-old club players.
By the time Austin was seven, he could juggle a ball with his feet more than 3,000 times. There is a video on his twitter page (@austinamer) showing him juggling a roll of toilet paper.
“Ever since I could walk I’ve been around a soccer ball,’’ Amer says. “My dad and I would always go up to the fields at Hunter’s Green and we would work on technical stuff. I’ve always been around soccer. It’s the only sport I’ve ever enjoyed playing.’’
Fred Amer, who introduced his son to the game, can vouch for that.
“He always had his ball with him,’’ he says. “It was in his blood.’’
By the time Amer was playing U-9 club soccer, he moved from the New Tampa league to the more competitive Hillsborough United, which is now Tampa Bay United. He stood out so much that the family, which also includes his mom, Jan, and his younger sister, Alexi, decided it would be best for Amer to play on an elite U-12 club in Orlando when he was in the sixth grade.
During that year, Amer attended Benito Middle School. On most days, he and his father would drive to Orlando right after school and not return home until 11 p.m. By the seventh grade, Amer started virtual school. His day consisted of morning workouts by himself in Hunter’s Green, school work, then practice in Orlando.
By the second year, he was spending a few nights in Orlando with a fellow club player to ease the travel.
“After that first year, it was just too much,’’ Amer says.
“We’ve gone through quite a few cars,’’ Fred Amer adds.
Austin’s travels were just beginning.
Before his senior year, when he was 17, he had a chance to play for the Barca Residency Academy in Casa Grande, AZ. The brand new academy was partially run by FC Barcelona, an elite club in the top-level “La Liga” in Spain. Think IMG Academy in Bradenton, except strictly for soccer.
After a tryout, he was given a full scholarship to play for Barca’s U-18 team. Leaving home was another sacrifice in chasing his soccer dream.
Amer, a midfielder, thrived on both the U-18 and U-19 teams in his year-plus with the club. During a showcase in the winter in Lakewood Ranch, he was spotted by some Orlando City scouts. Ironically, the scouts didn’t realize that just two years earlier, Amer’s club team was affiliated with Orlando City. They wanted him to join their B team, which was one step down from Orlando City of Major League Soccer.
He decided to leave his Barca team during the season, when Amer became the first Barca player to sign a professional contract.
“He’s chasing the dream that he has,’’ his dad says. “If he really wanted to go through with the sport, he had to follow this path.’’
The Amers were able to see Austin play last season. He played in 26 matches as a 19-year-old and was impressive enough for Orlando City to bring him back this season.
The 2020 season hasn’t gone exactly as planned. The only way the Amers can see him play is via livestream. Earlier in the year, Amer suffered a shoulder injury that kept him out of a few games. Also, an inconclusive Covid-19 test forced him to sit out a bit longer until he got two straight negative tests.
However, he’s back on the field now and doing the thing he loves to do. The season runs until late October. After that, Amer’s contract will be up and he could move on yet again.
“My goal in the future is to play in Europe at some point,’’ he says.