Leone Cruz wasn’t sure what to do. On one day he was a happy-go-lucky college kid, waiting for the opportunity to become a professional soccer player. The next, his name was called in the second round of the MLS SuperDraft on January 13 and things changed, but he had no idea how much.
One week later, he wasn’t even sure what to pack for his trip to Seattle to start training camp with the Sounders FC, who selected him 21st overall.
“It was a quick turnaround - I didn’t know what to pack, so I just threw everything into a bag and moved out of my house,” said the 23-year-old defender from Round Rock, Texas. “It was nice, though, I was excited to come to the organization.”
While he wasn’t quite prepared for that moment, his experience at SMU in Dallas has him ready to take on the challenge of professional soccer head on.
Cruz was recruited to Southern Methodist by one of college’s elite coaches, Schellas Hyndman. However, after amassing 466 career victories with the Mustangs, Eastern Illinois University and Murray State University, Hyndman moved to MLS with FC Dallas during the 2008 season. He would take FC Dallas to the MLS Cup Final in just his second year at the professional level.
“Schellas was the man. He’s very disciplined and psychologically he knows what’s going on with the players. We call him a ninja,” Cruz said, noting Hyndman’s martial arts background. “When you’re in college and surrounded by so many distractions and you have a goal to be a professional athlete, he’s really good to have around. He knows the type of discipline you’re going to need to achieve those goals.”
In his final three seasons at SMU, Cruz was coached by Tim McClements, who helped the rugged central defender finalize his plans of reaching MLS. It helped, of course, that Hyndman and FC Dallas were just up the road and invited Cruz in to train with the team during the summer months.
“It was good to have that environment around and visualize yourself playing at that level. It was definitely a good motivator,” he said.
Now in Seattle, Cruz has been training with a group of draftees, invitees and some returning players with the Sounders FC since last Wednesday and will begin full training camp on Tuesday.
There he will compete with returning center backs Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Jeff Parke, Patrick Ianni and Taylor Graham for playing time in the preseason. With his youth and competitiveness, Cruz has a lot to offer to the Sounders.
“He’s very good in one-one-one confrontations,” said Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid. “The big change from college to the pros is that the speed of play is faster and the positional play has to improve. He’s got some leadership qualities, he’s solid in the air and he’s ready to compete day-in and day-out.”
Cruz and the rest of the players that the Sounders drafted or invited to training camp will begin full training with two sessions at Starfire on Tuesday. They will train again at Starfire on Wednesday before sessions Thursday and Friday at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, where they will endure fitness testing before a day off on Saturday. Next week, they start training at Grande Sports World in Casa Grande, Arizona.