TUKWILA, Wash. — Take a look at the MLS leaderboard. Perched at the top of the goalscorer’s list is a name no reasonable person would have predicted as recently as a few weeks ago: David Estrada.
The Seattle Sounders forward has emerged from relative obscurity to jump out to a blazing start, scoring a hat trick against Toronto FC in his debut and following that up with a goal against the Houston Dynamo. And although it doesn’t count toward his MLS total, Estrada also banged one in against Santos Laguna in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, just for good measure.
WATCH: Estrada completes hat trick against TFC
Heading in this week’s game against the San Jose Earthquakes, Estrada now finds himself going head-to-head with another player who came out of nowhere to score a boatload of goals and who currently trails him by one goal on the leaderboard, Chris Wondolowski.
“I don’t know if that’s going to make headlines,” Estrada said of the Golden Boot showdown, “but it’s funny to me.”
The two players square off as headliners at CenturyLink on Saturday (10 pm ET, watch LIVE online), but as recently as two years ago, neither of these players showed any sign of being Golden Boot contenders.
Wondolowski had come to the Earthquakes in a midseason trade the previous year, and hadn’t played in either of San Jose’s first two games of 2010 after scoring seven goals spread out over his five MLS seasons. Meanwhile, Estrada was a rookie just fighting for a roster spot.
Wondo went on to score in each of the Quakes’ next four games on his way to winning the Golden Boot with 18 league tallies. He followed that up by scoring 16 goals in 2011, which tied him for the league lead.
It was the kind of breakout stretch that almost no one saw coming. Well, at least no one other than Wondolowski.
“You always have to have confidence in your ability,” Wondolowski told MLSsoccer.com. “I always believed I could produce. It’s just one of those things that happens so fast, you don’t want to slow down and not look at it.”
Estrada admits that he has often struggled with a finding a similar level of confidence. But the two players are similar in other ways. Both players have repeatedly found themselves in good positions to score this season and, just as importantly, finished a good percentage of those opportunities. To hear Sounders defender Patrick Ianni tell it, that’s no coincidence.
WATCH: Estrada gives Seattle lead against Houston
Ianni has had the opportunity to see both close up for extended periods. He spent two seasons with Wondolowski when both were with the Houston Dynamo and has practiced alongside Estrada throughout his tenure with the Sounders.
“Fitness and hunger are what really sets them apart,” Ianni said. “They are two of the fittest and hungriest forwards in the league. They are just always moving, so you have to always keep your eye on them and move your feet with them as a defender.”
The two players appear to be on similar career arcs, even if Estrada’s is squarely in the early phase. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Sounders forward admits Wondolowski was one of the players he looked to for inspiration during some of his darker days when he was questioning if he’d ever see the field, let alone be mentioned among Golden Boot contenders.
“I looked for players that struggled and got into the starting 11,” Estrada said. “Wondolowski was one of the players that really stood out to me just because he didn’t play much his first few seasons and then he had a great season with San Jose. If he could do it, I could too if I just put in the work.”
Of course, Estrada realizes that he still has a long way to go before he can legitimately be mentioned in the same breath as Wondo, who is trying to become the first player in MLS history to lead the league in goals for three straight seasons. But he’s undeniably on the right path and seems to have made a believer out of at least one person who knows a thing or two about this kind of story.
“I’ve watched their games,” Wondolowski said. “He’s a good player, very talented. He’s capable of making a run at the Golden Boot.”
Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com and SB Nation.