About 65 miles down the 101 from Santa Clara’s Buck Shaw Stadium sits the small town of Salinas, Calif. Best known as the setting for John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” Salinas is also the home of Sounders FC forward David Estrada and if all goes well this week, he will have the opportunity to play in front of his family and friends on Saturday when the Sounders face the San Jose Earthquakes.
An ankle sprain suffered in preseason kept Estrada out of the Sounders FC’s first four matches of 2013, but now with starting forwards Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins away with national team duty and Estrada recovering well, he may make his season debut on Saturday if he can get over the last hurdle of his recovery.
“Going back home would be nice, but at the end of the day, it’s just about trying to get back into the swing of things and hopefully make the 18 and try to contribute to the team,” said Estrada, who estimates that he’ll need as many as 50 tickets to accommodate friends and family at the match.
The UCLA product and fourth-year MLS veteran had his best year as a pro in 2012, scoring five goals in MLS play, including a hat trick against Toronto FC in the MLS season-opener. He also added one goal in the CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal series with Santos Laguna and another in the Champions League Group Stage. He missed some time with a broken foot, but was fully recovered before the season ended.
In his time away at the start of this season, he watched the Sounders go 1-2-1 in all competitions, taking mental notes on how his teammates react to different situations from suite level.
“When you watch the game from that angle, you can see the movement from some of the players. You can learn from those guys and you have to look at it that way,” he said.
He got his first bit of action on Sunday in a Reserve League game against the Portland Timbers, playing 45 minutes.
It was part of a pair of hard-working weeks for Estrada as he has been cleared to train more and more to get back into the lineup. While it may be encouraging that he is diligent in his efforts to return to the field, his work ethic is also a bit of a concern for a coaching staff that knows the trains that can put on his recovery if he rushes back to the field.
“He’s hungry. That’s never an issue with David. It’s about being smart. He’s the kind of guy that you have to lock into his locker to make sure that he doesn’t over-train,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “It’s tough for it to heal when you overdo it each day, so we have to find that right balance. That’s something that’s a little more difficult for him.”
Estrada said that he felt good after playing in the reserve game – his first time playing 11v11 since suffering the injury in preseason. However, he also acknowledges that he won’t truly know how ready he is until he’s on the field playing.
“You don’t know until you test it. In training I feel good. We’ll see this weekend,” he said.
Kickoff for Saturday’s match is scheduled for 7:30 pm PT, with television coverage on KING-5 and the radio broadcast on KIRO Radio 97.3.