David Estrada’s story has been one of patience.
He had played just 536 competitive minutes in two seasons for the Sounders FC, but hadn’t managed a goal or assist.
That all changed in the first 12 minutes of a historically important match against Santos Laguna on Wednesday.
Starting in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal match alongside Fredy Montero, Estrada played the role Sigi Schmid designed for him, making runs to create space for Montero and provide options for Seattle’s dynamic midfield.
In the opening minutes and throughout the match, Schmid was happy with what he got from the third-year forward out of UCLA.
“I thought David Estrada did a lot of work and opened up a lot of spaces for us,” Schmid said. “I was pleased with what we did early on.”
In the 12th minute, though, he played the role of hero when one of those runs put Estrada on the end of a looping ball from Montero that Estrada headed past Santos Laguna goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez for his first competitive goal for the Sounders FC.
“I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity given to me early on in the season,” he said. “In my first start, to get a goal is really big for me. Not only for the team, but for myself, too.”
It’s been a long road back already for Estrada. He started his UCLA career as a walk-on forward and impressed Schmid even from his first season. Over the next three years, though, he moved to the midfield and, while he continued to have success, strayed from his natural goal-scoring talent.
He stayed in the midfield, but a combination of the leap to MLS and a deep Seattle midfield mean minutes were hard to come by in his first season. Last year, he added right back to his repertoire, but still was unable to find the field much. The highlight came on a three-game stretch over nine days that saw the Sounders travel through three time zones in three different countries to face the Vancouver Whitecaps and New England Revolution in MLS play with a CONCACAF Champions League group stage match in Guatemala mixed in between.
In the first match, he came on for the final 11 minutes to seal up a 3-1 win over the Whitecaps, then in the final match in New England, he started and played the full match on the right side of midfield in a 2-1 Seattle victory.
His strong play in those matches presented more opportunities to Estrada, though they wouldn’t come until this preseason, when he had a chance to move back to forward and reacquaint himself with the position. With the departures of Nate Jaqua and Pat Noonan in the offseason and the trade of Mike Fucito during training camp, minutes were beginning to open up at the forward spot alongside Montero. The acquisition of Eddie Johnson will eat away at many of those minutes, but Estrada showed in preseason that he won’t be so easily passed up, as evidenced by his goal on Wednesday.
“I’m so happy for David because it’s been a lot of years at work,” Schmid said. “I’m very happy for him because nobody works harder. Nobody is more committed than he is. Nobody wants it more. For him to get the goal, to play in this game and to score against Santos Laguna, being a guy who was born in Mexico I think was huge for him.”
He may get a chance to add to those heroics on Wednesday when the Sounders meet Santo Laguna in the return leg of the quarterfinal series in Torreon, Mexico.