Sounders FC 2 forward and Sounders Academy U-15 assistant coach David Estrada is loving life during his second stint in Seattle.
Estrada, 30, started his professional career in MLS with the Sounders when the club selected him with the 11th pick in the 2010 MLS Super Draft. A relentless, gritty and intelligent forward, the Salinas, California, native etched his name into the club’s history books when he bagged a hat trick in Seattle’s 3-1 win over Toronto FC in front of a boisterous crowd in the 2012 home opener.
In his second act with the club, Estrada has already strung together a career year on the stat sheet, scoring a team-leading nine goals and creating 14 chances for S2 in USL play. Arguably the best player for the Tacoma side this season, he initially joined S2 in the preseason simply hoping to stay fit as he scoured the lower divisions for an opportunity to extend his professional career.
“At the start of the year, it was just an invitation to train, and then we started floating around the idea of actually signing a veteran guy that loves the club,” said S2 Head Coach John Hutchinson. “And David Estrada was that guy. He’s become kind of a second assistant coach for us.”
In recognition of the club’s rich history, Estrada decided to don the number 74 when he signed for S2, a nod to the Sounders’ inaugural NASL season back in 1974.
Estrada celebrates his goal in a 3-1 win over Las Vegas Lights FC | Charis Wilson
Not only is Estrada a mentor for the bevy of young prospects currently percolating with S2 – the USL outfit has fielded 17 teenagers so far this season – he’s literally a player-coach for the club, serving as the assistant for the Sounders Academy U-15 team.
“If I could’ve written a role for myself and what I would like to do at this stage in my career, this would be it,” said Estrada. “To come back to this Academy that has such top prospects right now who are, in my opinion, not just able to make the jump to S2, but also to the First Team, is something that is beautiful.”
It’s a role Estrada never could have imagined as a free agent entering the 2018 season.
While he was training with S2, he noticed that the club had posted a job opportunity to be an assistant coach in the Academy. After several conversations with Sounders FC Director of Player Development Marc Nicholls, he was able to carve out his unique player-coach role, which would have him mentor the prospects on S2 while also coaching some of the youngest talents in the pipeline.
David Estrada (center) enjoys a training session at Starfire Sports Complex with Azriel Gonzalez and Shandon Hopeau / Jane Gershovich
Halfway through the USL season, it’s safe to say the experiment is already paying dividends.
“He’s been an extremely good pro,” said Hutchinson. “A guy like that who’s had a long time at the club, he takes all the young boys under his wing. He’s in the gym with them four or five times a week. He’s the last guy out at training with the young ones, teaching them. All the young boys really look up to him and they respect him. He arrives early, and he’s the last one off the training pitch.”
In his role as an Academy assistant coach, Estrada has been impressed by the player development infrastructure at the club, especially the meticulous tactical education provided to kids as young as 12-years-old. But as someone from a small town in California who never played for the big youth clubs, he’s been enthralled with the expansive youth scouting infrastructure, with the club providing the most talented players throughout Washington a pathway to the Sounders First Team.
Added Estrada: “I can relate to some of these kids because that’s where I see myself. If I didn’t have immense help from people around me, I wouldn’t have made it this far. But obviously these kids are super talented, and we have an abundance of resources where we have scouts at every tournament. To be able to have people all over the country identify these players, it shows why Ray [Serrano] is here, why [Alfonso] Ocampo-Chavez is here, why [Azriel] Gonzalez is here. I think we’re doing our part to make sure those players don’t fall through the cracks.”
With so many talented Sounders Academy players making their way up the pipeline, Estrada sees his role as a mentor, both on and off the field. Whether they’re in training or a match, the savvy forward tries to educate his younger counterparts, like Ocampo-Chavez (16) and Alec Diaz (17), on how to create space and make intelligent runs. For the likes of Marlon Vargas (17) and Serrano (16), his clever movement off the ball and ability to link play will help them acclimate to the professional level.
Estrada’s second foray in the Pacific Northwest has been an unmitigated success. If you follow him on social media, you’ll have seen ‘G.A.N.G’ included in his posts, an acronym which stands for Guiding A New Generation. Sounders Academy has a plethora of immensely talented prospects who possess the talent to one day suit up for the First Team. With Estrada leading the way, this new generation is in safe hands.
“We’re looking forward to continuing our relationship with him,” said Hutchinson, “and I can see him playing a big part again next season when bring a few more Academy players up through the system to S2.”