My brothers and I, we like to tease our parents about how lucky they are to have three boys who made it to MLS.
You probably know about Cristian, my teammate with the Seattle Sounders. But our older brother Cesar works in the league, too – he’s an athletic trainer with the LA Galaxy. So, we tell mom and dad they’re pretty spoiled, soccer-wise.
All jokes aside, it’s basically the opposite, though. We owe everything to them.
Both of our parents immigrated from Central America in the 1980s; our father from Guatemala, our mother from El Salvador. They arrived in California with very little in their pockets and very limited English skills, but a hunger to work hard and improve their lives – and eventually ours, too. We grew up in a working-class community called Pico Rivera that’s 90% Hispanic, and like our parents, we had to overcome hurdles to make a life in this sport.
LEE ESTA NOTA EN ESPAÑOL AQUÍ
We're so grateful for what they've done for us. They traveled thousands of miles and sacrificed so much to give us a better life, to give us opportunities that many other kids don't get, and that foundation is where it all started for us. At the same time, we were also fortunate to have the chance to go back, to visit their homelands every few years during the summers and stay connected to our family and our heritage. Having those multiple cultures that I can relate to when I was growing up? It was the best thing that could have happened to me, both in soccer and in life.
Choosing between three countries
That also influenced my mindset later, when I had to choose which country I would represent at the international level. I was fortunate to be eligible to play for three nations: El Salvador, Guatemala and the United States. Guatemala’s head coach at that time actually got a hold of my father directly, and told him, persistently, they wanted me to represent the country of his birth. As you can imagine, that was a huge honor for my dad – and him being the middleman, that put even more pressure on me!
I had memories of watching El Salvador as a kid, and a cousin of ours named Miguel Leon had played for La Selecta when we were young – that was one of the first things that made the idea of becoming a professional feel real. When El Salvador’s head coach Hugo Perez invited me to join his team as he worked to rebuild the program into a Concacaf contender, I was honored, though it presented me with one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make.
Unlike Cristian, I was never approached by the US. And in that situation, I felt I could either wait until they called me – a call that might never come – or seize my opportunity to create my own path and be my own person.
So, I chose El Salvador because I felt like I could create a bigger impact on the field, and also write my own story. It was a chance to help a country that I still loved just as much as the US because of everything that I've been through with my family, what we experienced together. I think it probably disappointed my dad, but ultimately he supported me, because he just wants to see me succeed and help make La Selecta better.
In years past, many around the national team might have frowned upon calling up players who weren’t born on Salvadoran soil. But times are changing, and they’ve realized that we can compete at a higher level by bringing in guys like me from different areas of the world to compete together, because we're all getting coached by different coaches and different styles at our clubs. Bringing that all together, you can form a competitive group, and I think Salvadoran fans have bought into it and see that it can help their team.
We’ve shown as much on the field. We didn’t qualify for this year’s World Cup but reaching the final round of Concacaf qualifying and showing well at the 2021 Gold Cup shows the progress we’ve made. We’re earning respect, and I believe there’s more to come. Coach Perez has created a competitive environment and we’re excited for what lies ahead – hopefully it all leads to us securing a place at World Cup 2026.
No longer just ‘Cristian’s brother’
Here’s the thing. Around the Sounders, I’m known as ‘Cristian’s brother,’ and that’s understandable – he’s achieved so much in Seattle. But playing for El Salvador has helped me become my own person, with my own identity, and I’m so thankful for that. It also led me towards one of my favorite moments of my soccer career so far: Playing against my brother in two World Cup qualifiers, the first of which was in El Salvador last year, with our friends and family watching.
I was playing in midfield at the start of that game, and later I moved to left back, right as Cristian entered the game as a right mid for the USMNT. So it couldn't have worked out better – we ended up in the same area of the field, going head to head. I remember one play, someone on my team played a ball in behind him for me to chase. There’s this photo that captured us scrapping with each other, trying to get to that ball – it was this competitive moment that reminded me of when we were kids, just at a higher level, with much higher stakes.
I think we have the best of both worlds. We play on the same club team in Seattle, but we also get these moments where we can compete against each other. And those are great experiences not only for us, but for our family. My mom has a split US-El Salvador jersey she wore for those qualifiers – we asked her who she was rooting for that day, and she said she wanted a tie. As it turned out, that’s exactly how the scoreline went that night in San Salvador.
My brothers and I realized the American dream. But we also understand that it never would’ve happened without the struggles that our parents had before coming to this country. We’re so blessed to have lived in both worlds, to have gained that perspective, that appreciation of the journey.