Around every corner, Andre Shinyashiki has had to fight through doubt, adversity and inattention.
Sometimes this resulted from his circumstance. Growing up in Brazil, he saw the uglier sides of the country he loves, like poverty, violence and men with guns on the sidelines of his youth games. Sometimes it was due to oversight from others. He starred on a high school soccer team that enjoyed an 117-game unbeaten run with two national titles, yet he wasn’t heavily recruited. At other times it’s been of his own doing. In just a brief span during his time at the University of Denver, he was embroiled in three altercations, leaving teammates with a concussion, broken nose and bloody face.
Or it's been because of who he is: A passionate fighter, someone who will work for every inch. Even when he was in his first professional preseason with the Colorado Rapids, he drew the ire of one of the country's living legends in the sport.
“We were in California after like a week of practice [and] we played a small-sided game where my team lost 5-4, but I scored all four goals," Shinyashiki, 22, told MLSsoccer.com in September. "I was just yelling something and Tim Howard came at me so hard. I was so frightened, like, 'Oh my god Tim Howard hates me. I’m done here forever.' Turns out he was just helping me, he’s been so good to me. That moment was really important for me.”
Thankfully, Shinyashiki's able to laugh about it now, but he's always been a scrapper. From growing up in Brazil, to excelling at Montverde Academy in Florida, to shining at Denver, and now after a stellar rookie campaign in MLS, Shinyashiki embraces the battle.
“I learned not to take anything for granted; everything you do, you have to earn it," Shinyashiki said. "That’s my life. I wasn’t always the most talented player, I didn’t go to a big school, I didn’t get heavily recruited, but here I am.”
Here he is, your AT&T 2019 MLS Rookie of the Year.
Born in Brazil, made in Denver
Born and raised in the large sprawling metropolis of Sao Paulo, Shinyashiki has seen some things. Yet he's quick to point out that his family worked hard to ensure he had a great life and indeed he's thankful to have experienced some hardships back home.
His father, Roberto, is a Brazilian psychiatrist and author who has several published books and more than 300,000 followers on Instagram. Andre says his father's career began to take off when he was growing up, but that never changed how the family operated. Roberto was sure to expose Andre to the realities of life, good and bad.
"Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great country, I love it and go back every offseason," Shinyashiki said. "But it prepares you, it shows you what the world really is. We played in some places where you had to have parents stay in the parking lot to watch the cars, the cars could get robbed any minute. There were people with guns showing up at games. That was my reality. Although my dad was doing well, he came from a very poor family. He wanted me to see that reality, he didn’t want me sheltered in the idea that life is beautiful and it’s all good."
When Andre neared high school, he was mature enough for a big change and left Brazil for Montverde Academy in Florida. He traveled to Florida alone and remains the only member of his family to live outside of Brazil.
"When I got to America, it was a completely different reality. I went to a boarding school," he said. "I was sheltered. The biggest culture shock for me, I just didn’t know a place like Montverde Academy even existed. You can’t leave, you have to dress up every day, you can’t have any facial hair, specific shoes, specific uniform. All that discipline."
While some of his teammates were heading to the country's top college soccer programs, Shinyashiki was overlooked. He didn't have any offers from the power-five conferences. After a recruiting trip to Denver, Shinyashiki was impressed not only with the campus but the coaching staff. Then-assistant coach Jamie Franks, who would soon become the head coach, was key in his commitment.
“I can’t even begin to tell you," Shinyashiki said of how his four years at Denver changed him. "When I got to college, I wasn't sure I’d ever play professionally, I was un-athletic. I mean, I was technically gifted like all Brazilians, but that was it. I wasn’t very good at anything else. My freshman year, I struggled a lot.”
Franks and his staff wanted to improve Shinyashiki's athleticism and his mind, accentuating his passion for the game. They believed his mentality would be the catalyst for real growth, so Franks challenged Shinyashiki to register four actions per minute. Most of that comes without the ball.
“The reality is, you’re not always going to score goals," Franks said. "So how are you going to help the team? He became a total footballer. We thought he could be an every-play forward. He’s an inside-out guy, a guy built from the inside out. His mentality is positive and resilient. He’s a special kid, he’s authentic. For his growth, he started to become more bought into the process.”
Still, it didn't come easy.
“I needed to change something," Shinyashiki admitted. "I started working so hard in the weight room, which made me faster and stronger. I’ve come a long way. Jamie taught me a lot about myself, what my strengths and weaknesses are. He taught me a lot about myself, it was really important. If you come to a professional locker room and you don’t know who you are, you’re going to get destroyed. I had that mentality of no one can break me because I’ve been broken down so many times, and I’ve gotten out of the hole by myself.”
It wasn't a linear growth process, and he wasn't always pushed into that hole. Sometimes he'd dig it and jump in all by himself.
“I had a lot of problems with controlling my anger," Shinyashiki recalled, his voice softening a bit. "I’d get super angry, super frustrated. Jamie was very hard on me. He was like, 'You can’t keep doing that.' And, trust me, that’s not how he said it. At the time, I was really down on myself. Like, I can’t believe I did that to my own teammates. What type of person do you want to be? I was thinking I need to make changes. I started seeing a sports psychologist who gave me a lot of techniques for my game and my life that really helped me.”
“He was just at a point where he kept getting into arguments and scuffles with teammates," Franks added. "I’d have to kick him out of practice or put him in the penalty box all the time. It sounds childish, but at the same time, you have to find out where that line is. Sometimes you have to cross the line to find out where your competitiveness is.”
Eventually, Shinyashiki put it all together during his senior season.
He scored 28 goals in 2018, easily the most in the nation. He was a finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, given to the country's best college soccer player, and received the Senior CLASS Award for his academic and athletic success.
Heading into his senior season, Shinyashiki's school newspaper asked him about his post-graduation plans, unaware of his professional soccer aspirations and of the work he'd done to get to that point. ("Are you kidding me?" Shinyashiki blurted while recalling that anecdote.)
At the 2019 MLS SuperDraft, Shinyashiki would hear his name called early. He just hoped there'd be a Rapids scarf draped around his neck when the time came.
"I've felt disrespected, it is what it is"
“Yeah, I wanted the Rapids to take me," Shinyashiki admitted. "Obviously, there are teams you want to go to, some teams more than others, but you obviously can’t say that before the draft. The Rapids are who I had really high. It’s home, they play young guys, they needed another forward. I was just hoping they would come around. I knew they had the 15th pick, and people didn’t have me going very high, but I knew I was going to go before No. 15."
The feeling was mutual. Rapids executive vice president and general manager Padraig Smith had plans to maneuver up from the No. 15 selection on draft day to take Shinyashiki. He had discussions with multiple teams leading into the draft and was looking for the right place to trade up before eventually grabbing the No. 5 pick from the Chicago Fire. Then his name was called.
“It was quite funny, he was sitting with his family and his agent," Smith recalled. "I sent his agent a text basically that we had a trade in place and we were going to get him. You could see his whole family break into smiles, his dad stood up. It was a really cool moment to see, not only how excited he was, but how excited his family was that he was coming to the Rapids.”
Shinyashiki's rookie season got off to a perfect start. He came off the bench in their season opener, a snowstorm against Portland that marked his MLS debut, and scored an equalizer deep into stoppage time for the 3-3 draw. He was mostly used off the bench for the first third of the season, though became an integral piece as Conor Casey was appointed interim coach. That continued when Robin Fraser took over on a permanent basis.
"We felt he was a Rookie of the Year contender from day one, but you have to live up to that," Smith said. "I give massive credit to Andre for the work he put in, the effort he put in. Ultimately, he deserves the success that came his way this year.”
By the end of 2019, Shinyashiki ended his debut season with seven goals and three assists across 31 appearances (18 starts). In games that Shinyashiki started, the club picked up 1.8 points per game, compared to just 0.9 PPG when he was on the bench.
For those who know him best, winning that award won't be Shinyashiki's peak. He'll continue doing what he's always done.
"He has this self-confidence that if he controls what he can – it sounds cliché – he’s going to grow," Franks said. "He’s a process-oriented guy. He’s been able to grow. He texts me after every game asking what can he do better. Even when he scores two goals. He’s not happy with being average, he wants to be extraordinary.”
That mentality is what makes Andre Shinyashiki.
"I wasn’t one of the guys who made it pro at 16, I wasn’t always the best player on my academy, I never went to a power-five school," Shinyashiki said. "Even my senior year, people at my school didn’t know who I was. I’m an underdog story. I’ve felt disrespected, it is what it is. I just gotta keep doing what I’m doing. It’s working.”
Here he is. Get used to him.