I don’t watch a lot of college soccer. I like it, but it just happens to be on at odd times or not on at all. Occasionally, friends and I will mingle with students up at Negoesco Stadium and taken in a game of the “true” soccer Dons of the University of San Francisco.
However, no game, no performance below the pro level can I so vividly recall as UCLA’s 4-0 drubbing of Virginia in the semis of the 2006 College Cup Series.
In that game, David Estrada flat-out owned the left offensive side of the field for the Bruins, with the Cavaliers defenders basically doing his bidding. The left flanker went bang bang with two quality goals in a two-minute stretch–one a dazzling splice job between two would-be defenders–and forever imprinted his skills in my mind.
More amazing? Estrada was a freshman…walk-on, having come to UCLA with no youth national club ball and originating from a small high school program.
It was that game, in Estrada’s run of college games, that led me to wanting to speak with Estrada after he was selected by the Seattle Sounders with the 11th round of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft.
The funny thing is that while Estrada’s on-field talent led to our conversation with the Salinas, California native, after speaking with him I came away much more impressed with the mental focus and sense of purpose for a player who continually seems to just walk-on to opportunities and show he belongs.
Heck, the first round selection (which some people questioned) coolly walked into his first game this year–a friendly against the historic SPL team Celtic–and buried a long-range effort just a minute later, snaking past a Celtic defender and swerving a ball past US National team hopeful Dominic Cervi, into the top left corner pocket.
Estrada speaks in a measured, acute tone and you shortly figure out why.
The young forward feels a deep–nay, an extreme–sense of responsibility to his family– extended to second and third cousins.
Several times during the interview Estrada did one of two things: profusely thanked a friend, coach, fan base or family member for helping get him to where he is today, or interrupted us to reinforce how deeply dedicated he is to the game and doing right by that same group of folks that facilitated his development.
It’s that dedication that Jorge Salcedo, Estrada head’s coach at UCLA, said sets him apart from other player’s with a similar level of talent,
“David’s a real hard-working kid.
One preseason, he trained so hard to be fit and he lost so much weight. In fact, he overtrained coming into preseason and we had to slow him down.
It’s just a testament to how well he wants to do.
A lot of times you wish kids would work a little bit harder. With David, he worked so hard already you didn’t want him to work any harder because it would become detrimental to him.”
And now our conversation with David Estrada, on his upbringing in the barrio of a coastal California town, whom he credits with helping him along the way (…and who we credits with being the best dressed on the Sounders), and why people should stop being surprised by his achievements.
Matthew, TSG: Hi David, how are you? Quickly to start us off. You’re on injured reserve right now with a hamstring injury. How’s the progression back to fitness?
David, Sounders FC: You know, it feels good. I’m taking it day by day; I don’t want to force it. But at the same time, it’s kind of frustrating since this is my first year.
Matthew: Good to hear it’s coming along. So tell me, how’s your rookie campaign been going? You walked on the field and just nailed that first goal. You going to be as prodigious as you were that first year in college?
David: Ha. The first year is going well.
I felt at first I was going to be okay to come in and get to play, but there are multiple things that I need to work on and that I am working on.
I feel very comfortable in training. And I feel like I’m finding my role on this team through that training.
Matthew: How would you qualify that role? We’ve seen you play different positions–out wide or up top this year. Any plan by the coaches? Any positions you prefer?
David: I can play on the right wing. I can play on the left side or up top as well. I feel like I’m interchangeable in my positions.
Obviously, playing with other guys who are interchangeable up top as well works well for my game and makes us a little bit lethal.
Matthew: How’s the team reacted to the big trade of Freddie Ljungberg to Chicago?
David: I feel like when Freddie first came here he did really well for the team, but then the team got to a point where they felt they needed something different.
The coaches noticed that and it came in a movement to youth I guess.
Now we have Sanna (Nyassi) on the right side and the new guy from Uruguay (Alvaro Fernandez) and he’s young too. We’re all young.
Matthew: So does that make the Sounders a more active or faster team, or is it just new blood?
David: It’s new blood.
But, I do feel like the flow of the game is a little bit faster and I think that’s how the coaches want us to play.
Matthew: Now, we’ve heard you had to carry bags as a rookie.
What are the team dynamics with you being a rookie?
David: Well, it’s just carrying out the bags which is not a big deal. All the guys are really nice. No one looks down upon you because you’re a rookie. Everyone just treats you already like you’re one of the guys.
Matthew: …and anything you didn’t expect?
David: I feel like, you know, everyone comes to work everyday.
In college, players would come in and train and maybe take a day off here or there.
In the pro ranks everyone works hard every single day. No one takes a day off.
And that’s pretty surprising and impressive for me because these guys–we–do this year round.
You know it’s a big surprise for me. I mean I try to do that all the time anyway, but for other older guys, like Tyrone Marshall…some of the older guys who are even banged up are still working on what’s necessary to get on the field.
Matthew, TSG: Now, who do you go to for counsel on the team? Is there a veteran player “assigned” to you or anything?
David: There is no one assigned to you. But there are guys you have an association with because of some connection, like you went to the same college.
Pat Ianni is someone who actually approached me and talks to me here and there. He’s someone I feel really comfortable talking to.
Another guy I feel very comfortable talking to–he’s probably my best friend also–is Leo Gonzalez. Not only because I help him translate but because he helps me with stuff both on and off the field.
I feel like he’s a mentor for me.
Matthew, TSG: Let’s backtrack a little to your youth.
Now, you’re from Salinas, California, population of about 150,000.
While Salinas sits just inland from a gorgeous stretch of Pacific Ocean coastline and it’s filled with lush farmland…I’ve been through there a number of times–it’s really a pretty place, but it also has a tremendous problem with violent gangs.
In fact, I just looked it up, there has been over 31 gang-related killings in the past year.
Did you experience any of this firsthand growing up? If so, how did you avoid it? Was it avoidable?
David: I feel like every single city has their bad neighborhoods and I kind of grew up in that neighborhood in our town, East Side Salinas.
It wasn’t very hard to stay away from that just because my mom and dad were very strict on me about what they wanted me to do outside of school.
My dad was always behind me playing soccer so I had a way out of that street violence.
I mean I did come across it (the violence).
I’ve seen drive-bys, I’ve seen someone get shot in the head and it’s very sad…
Matthew, TSG: Wow.
David: …but, I was very fortunate with my dad who instilled the importance of playing soccer…his passion was playing soccer and something I got from him.
He started up a team and they played Sunday league. I would follow him and I’d train with him.
And then the days I wouldn’t train with him, I would go train with my own team.
Soccer really helped me get out Salinas. I knew I always wanted to get out of Salinas.
I mean, I have very strong roots in Salinas, and I love the people and I love the city.
But there was stuff going on there that I knew I wanted to get away from. I had the opportunity to go San Jose State or Cal Poly for college, but I went to UCLA which was further away.
But yeah, Salinas is a tough neighborhood and it kind of sucks that I have my family still living there. My little brother is going to a junior college there.
Sometimes you look online and…and…there is three homicides or gang-related shootings in less than 48 hours which is very scary because sometimes those bullets don’t know where they are going and they catch innocent people.
Matthew, TSG: And that led you to get far away to UCLA.
What people may not know is you weren’t offered a scholarship; you came from a small high school program and never participated in youth national academies…yet you go to UCLA, you walk on, and you become National Freshman Player of the Year.
How the heck did that happen?
David: A little bit of luck, but at the same time I worked really really hard.
After I walked on, the coaches at UCLA always said to me that if I did well in training they were going to give me an opportunity that first year.
Halfway through the season, our forward Maxwell Griffin did his ACL and went out. That opened up the door for me to win a starting position and start scoring.
But before all the goals, I had to put in so much work. It was tough and I didn’t get any scholarship and I actually had to pay for the first quarter which was something that I told my parents they didn’t have to worry about and then I had to tell him that they had to cover it.
(I chuckle, David stops me)
Wait, but it was very painful for me to tell my parents that honestly.
I never wanted to put them through that. And I had to put that all in my head and tell myself that “I didn’t want to go back home.”
I just wanted to succeed and thank god things worked out for me in the end.
Matthew, TSG: Well you had more than a solid four-year career there and something…
David: Can I interrupt?
Matthew, TSG: Of course…
David: Jazz Rodriguez was the main guy in getting me from high school to college and the main place he wanted me to go was UCLA.
Matthew, TSG: Who’s he?
His dad is my dad’s uncle and we’ve got a close network in the family. He’s a teacher at a charter school in LA now and we go way back to childhood.
He lived in LA. He was the one that wanted me to go to UCLA. He went out of his way to help me.
I never actually thought of going to college until he called me one time and asked if I was considering playing <David draws out his pronunciation> “D….1….” college soccer and I was like, “What is that?”
I was only a sophomore in high school and started focusing on academics.
He initiated everything for me. He made phone calls, sent emails and got the attention of the UCLA coaches and got them to come see me.
I was very fortunate to have him along the way. I didn’t have a dorm in L.A. and I stayed on his couch.
You weren’t expected to go in the 1st round. With the expectation that you might need to really battle for a roster spot or go back to school, what’s the next two weeks like after going “11th.”
David: My phone blew up that day.
I told everyone not to watch the draft because I thought I was going 3rd round, at best 2nd.
To actually have my name announced there was amazing. For those two weeks I couldn’t even believe it happened.
Matthew, TSG: And you’re enjoying Seattle?
David: I always tell folks that I’m very happy.
I’d like to say it’s a dream come true to play for Seattle, but, you know, it’s only their second year.
Kids ask me if you ever thought you’d play for the Sounders.
I didn’t growing up watching the Sounders, because they didn’t really exist. They were still in USL and I didn’t pay attention to USL.
But the organization’s been great and we average like 35,000 fans at each game which is really pretty amazing.
Matthew, TSG: Okay, let’s finish up with a segment that we like to do with players…
Who’s the funniest guy on the Sounders?
David: Funniest guy, Pete Vagenas. He can pretty much say the rudest thing about someone and get away with it. Some of the guys wouldn’t make a joke about Ljungberg or what was going on, but Pete, he doesn’t care and he can get away with it.
I think everyone probably agrees with that one.
Matthew, TSG: Who’s got the best shot?
The best shot, but sometimes wild shots, Pat Ianni. He shoots some serious rockets.
Matthew, TSG: Who’s the smartest?
David: I’m going to go with the guy that most people would say, Mike Fucito.
They don’t just give Harvard degrees away. He’s pretty damn smart, though.
Matthew, TSG: If you had to entertain a thousand kids at a bbq, which player would you take with you and why?
David: Freddy Montero. He’s a recognizable figure and I know kids would just love ’em.
Matthew, TSG: Who’s the best dressed?
The best-dressed. Tough one. Ozzie (Osvaldo Alonso).
I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone wear a white suit, but it was the summer, he broke it out and looked real nice in it.
I’m going to say Ozzie, dressing to impress.
Matthew, TSG: Ok, let me drop this one in there since I forgot. National Team aspirations. You spent some time training with the US, correct?
David: I went to one US U-18 camp.
I think every professional player wants a national call-up. That’s something that is always on mind whether it’s the US or Mexico.
David is a Mexican-American whose parents emigrated to California.
I always compare myself to the players who are out on the field for the national teams.
Some people might call it a long shot for me; it’s not that much of a long-shot.
(Note: TSG put David in our Brazil 2014 prospect column).
Matthew, TSG: Let me put you on the spot, U.S. or Mexico?
David: I think for the US because it’s some exciting times. But the first one that calls is probably going to be the best choice for me.
Matthew, TSG: Well, we hope to see you on the States team. Anything else you want to add?
David: I’m just very appreciate and thankful of the people and coaches who helped me get here today.
I’m proud of where I came from. My family is hard working people.
I just want to let the people know who helped me a long the way that I’ll forever be thankful for them.
• David’s nickname in high school was Samurai.
David on the nickname:
It dates back when I was very young and an uncle of mine gave it to me. Some people back home thought it was my legal name growing up. My close family still call me by my nickname.
Coach Salcedo on the nickname:
David’s a shy guy. No one called him Samurai in college, but one game–I think it was his junior year–David scored a goal.
And the crowd just starts chanting, I couldn’t understand what they were saying, and then I realized that they’re chanting for David and they’re chanting “Samurai.” I think we had like 50 friends and relatives in the stands that day. It was pretty funny.
• I’d just like to point out that at the conclusion of the conversation with David and in every email, David thanked TSG for the opportunity to be interviewed. I thought that was pretty classy and should get mentioned.
• TSG would like to thank Seattle’s Amy Swearingen for providing the connection to David that made this interview possible. Thank you Amy; well-appreciated.