CARSON, Calif. – Chivas USA needed depth, Eriq Zavaleta craved opportunity, and both parties hope their union produces an intraleague loan system success story.
Zavaleta, 21, made his debut for the Rojiblancos last weekend at center back in his first test since arriving on loan from Seattle Sounders FC in late February. While the former first-round selection was brought into the league primarily as a forward, the Goats view him as a defender. They noticed Zavaleta was available and, with head coach Wilmer Cabrera having worked with him in the US Under-17 national team program, pursued his services.
“We saw a lot of potential there with him and we believe he can become a starting center back in this league,” Chivas USA assistant coach Paul Caffrey told MLSsoccer.com. “That process has started. He has some points there to pick on, but he had a good start against [in a 3-1 loss to FC Dallas]. We’re happy that he’s making some progress that will be able to help us moving forward.”
Zavaleta, the 10th overall pick by the Sounders in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft, fully embraced the loan.
“You go on loan in a situation like this to get experience and play in games,” Zavaleta told MLSsoccer.com. “It has started early for me and I’m happy. It’s always a situation where you’re at the club you want to be at, and I wish I could have played in Seattle, but they didn’t see me in their plans for the year. Knowing Wilmer and knowing this organization is headed in the right direction, I was really excited about this. It has gone well for me.”
Defender Bobby Burling (shoulder/elbow) might not be back this weekend for Sunday’s road matchup against the New York Red Bulls (3 pm ET, UniMas), perhaps paving the way for Zavaleta to state his case again. He made a crucial, last-ditch tackle in the box in the second half of last week’s game – his first career start – that raised some eyebrows.
“It was good for him to get those moments and be comfortable,” goalkeeper Dan Kennedy told MLSsoccer.com. “He understands what it takes at this level. We’re going to need guys to step in and compete for starting spots.”
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Not only has Zavaleta had to adjust to a new team, but he's also set his focus on becoming a center back full-time.
“In that transition, there will be problems I’ll have to face, so it’s about overcoming those things, getting better every day and honing the craft,” Zavaleta said. “It has to be about making the move to center back for the long term and I’m hoping that I can show not only Chivas and not only Seattle, but the world, that I can do this.”
The Indiana product looks to build off of his five league appearances from a year ago. Whether his production this season leads to a longer stay or a return to the Pacific Northwest, Zavaleta appears receptive to the possibilities.
“We’ll see how it plays out,” he said. “I’m trying to get better. We’ll see if Seattle wants me back at the end of the loan spell. Whatever the situation will be, I’m open to whatever. Right now, I’m happy where I am here at Chivas, growing with this team and helping this team succeed.”