TUKWILA, Wash. – Cracking a deep team hasn’t been easy for David Estrada, a former first-round draft pick who has played less than 200 minutes in his two-year professional career.
Up until last Saturday, the Seattle Sounders midfielder had played just 18 minutes and only been named to the gameday roster a handful of times. But after putting in countless hours in training and impressing coaches during Reserve League matches, he finally received his first start of the season in New England.
Estrada made the most of it. Although his stat sheet didn’t look all that impressive, his coaches lauded his performance and seemed pleased with what they saw in a 2-1 Sounders victory. Estrada sent in several nice crosses, at least one of which should have resulted in a goal, and generally looked much more calm and composed than he had in his previous appearances.
Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid was impressed enough to leave Estrada in for the full 90 minutes during a game the Sounders needed to win in order to remain alive in the Supporters’ Shield race.
“I was a little bit nervous in the beginning, but once I connected that first pass, I got a little more comfortable,” Estrada said at training on Thursday. “This team is good all around at every position and they make it easy for someone to just go in there and work their butt off.”
That work ethic has clearly been noticed by his coaches. Both Schmid and assistant Ezra Hendrickson, who coaches the reserve team, repeatedly pointed to Estrada’s effort as a key reason why he’s managed to stick with the team.
“David’s a very emotional, good kid,” Schmid said. “He comes to work every day. He tries his best and being on this team is really important to him. He’ll do whatever he needs to do in whatever role he’s given. It’s difficult for anybody when you’re not playing. He’s a guy who’s going to give it his best whenever he steps on the field. Obviously that weighs on my mind as you look at things for next year.”
One player who seems to be a good example for Estrada is Lamar Neagle. Like Estrada, Neagle rarely played his first season and was actually cut in his second. After returning this year, he finally broke into the rotation after becoming one of the Sounders’ top players in reserve games. It’s that kind of gritty experience Estrada can lean on as he looks to establish himself.
“As [Estrada] gets more experience, you can see him getting more confident on the ball,” said Hendrickson, noting that he often played Estrada out of position as a central midfielder in reserve games. “I think the future is bright for him.”
All of this is a far cry from where Estrada was at this point during his rookie season. After being a somewhat surprising No. 11 overall SuperDraft pick after a four-year career at UCLA, he made one MLS start early in the year in which he was clearly overmatched. He made just two more appearances and was ultimately placed on the injured list, despite returning to fitness well before the end of the season.
That clearly took on a toll on his psyche, and Estrada admitted to struggling with the mental side of the game. Now, though, he says his confidence is “through the roof.”
“I’m just excited to get out to training every day and work hard and impress coaches,” he said.