David Estrada gave a brief glimpse of his goal-scoring prowess against Santos Laguna when he scored in the first leg of their quarterfinal meeting on March 7 when he scored his first competitive goal for the Sounders FC.
On Saturday, he proved it was no fluke when he netted the club’s third hat trick in club history in a 3-1 win over Toronto FC in their MLS regular season opener at CenturyLink Field.
After the game, though, Estrada got emotional at his locker as the deep ocean he’d swam to go from little-used bench player to opening night hero.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Estrada said, putting his head down and pausing before composing himself and finishing his thought. “I am just so thankful for the guys around me. I started to put myself down a little after last year, but they are always right there to pick me back up. It’s been a long time coming.”
The belief from his teammates has been a driving force for Estrada. That faith comes from the club, too.
In 2010, Sigi Schmid was maligned for selecting Estrada with the 11th overall pick of the MLS SuperDraft. The UCLA product wowed in his freshman season, scoring a freshman school record 12 goals after joining the Bruins as a walk-on. He played the remaining three years at UCLA as a midfielder, but netted just ten goals and ten assists after he earned Soccer America’s National Freshman of the Year.
While his adjustment to the MLS level took time, head coach Sigi Schmid knew his work-ethic and natural talents would eventually shine through.
However, he couldn’t find the field in his first two seasons and was left jumping between the midfield and the right back spot with Schmid trying to find the right fit for Estrada.
This preseason was something of a make-or-break time for the 24-year-old from Salinas, California. With the departures of Nate Jaqua and Pat Noonan and the uncertainty around O’Brian White’s future, Schmid moved Estrada back to the position he was playing when Schmid first saw him play as a freshman at UCLA.
Slowly, he climbed the depth chart and by the time training camp ended, he’d worked his way into the starting lineup. The confidence from Schmid early in camp was important for Estrada.
“He’s always had faith in me. In preseason, he was the one that decided to put me up top. I was willing to play right back, but he’s the one that makes the decisions,” he said. “Thankfully, Brian Schmetzer and Sigi Schmid guided me on what to do playing up top and things worked out.”
Back in the locker room after Saturday’s win over Toronto FC, Estrada was again emotional when talking about his grandfather, for whom he pointed to the sky after his first goal against Santos Laguna and again after his third goal against Toronto.
Growing up in Salinas, Estrada played with his father, uncles and brother on a Sunday league team named for his grandfather, Armando Mora.
“He was a big influence on my family in soccer. He’s big time in my life,” Estrada said. “I never met him, but he’s so important to me and my family. It’s like a double-meaning. It’s for the players I played with on the Sunday league team and for him, too.”
Estrada will look to improve his goal-scoring tear on Friday when the Sounders host the defending Eastern Conference champion Houston Dynamo at CenturyLink Field in a nationally televised match on NBC Sports.