David Estrada (Photo via Twitter)
Ever since the Seattle Sounders opted to select David Estrada with their first-round pick of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, the move has been questioned. Estrada was a solid performer during his four seasons at UCLA, but his counting stats seemed to fall off each year after his standout freshman season. In two somewhat lackluster MLS seasons in which he's started just twice, he's done little to quiet those concerns.
After a strong preseason where he's tied for the team lead in goals scored and the trade that sent away Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle, Estrada appears poised for a breakout season. Perhaps not coincidentally, after spending the first two years trying to prove that he can play wherever he's needed, he's now likely to receive his first big chance at the position he played best in college: forward.
The latest example of that came on Wednesday when Estrada started alongside Fredy Montero against Atlante. Estrada responded with a goal and an assist, giving him three goals this preseason.
"I thought David did well," Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said afterward. "I thought he showed, he opened the game up for us, made a lot of runs in the corners. I thought he combined well with Montero. He scored a good goal. He was active, he was involved, he held the ball up for us. David's made big strides and I was very pleased with what he did today."
With Eddie Johnson clearly not fit to start -- and unlikely to be so within two weeks against Santos Laguna -- and Sammy Ochoa hardly impressing during preseason, it's starting to look more and more likely that Estrada could find himself as the starter for the immediate future.
If Schmid were to go in that direction, it would surely come as a blow to those who continue to believe that Schmid is exceptionally rigid when it comes to his preference to field a big/small forward tandem. Estrada is anything but big, standing just 5-foot-8 and weighing in at 160 pounds. In fact, he'd be a bit smaller than Montero. While Schmid seems to show a clear preference for a big/small pairing, as evidenced by the the Eddie Johnson trade, the idea that he only moves away from with the proverbial gun to his head has been repeatedly rubbished.
There's reason to think the partnership could work, at least in the short term. Estrada would be similar to Fucito in that he's a bit of a workhorse. While Estrada is not as physical of a player as Fucito, he makes up for it with better touch and passing. It could make for an interesting combination, and it seemed to work beautifully against Atlante as the two players combined for three goals and an assist.
Against a team like Santos Laguna, who like most Mexican teams does not employ a particularly physical style of play, the pairing would make a lot more sense. The fact that none of the Sounders' four primary attacking players would have much of a physical presence -- none of them weigh more than 162 pounds -- probably wouldn't be that big of an issue. The chances of Estrada and Montero getting beaten up by centerbacks are pretty small, as Santos Laguna's starters are equally diminutive in stature — Jorge Estrada is 5-foot-6, 143 pounds and Rafael Figueroa is 5-foot-9, 163 pounds. Facing that kind of defense, the 6-1, 170-pound Brad Evans could be a real monster.
Where Estrada's size could be an issue is in MLS play. There are few, if any, MLS teams that feature defenses with that little size and the Sounders could probably use someone with a bit more physical presence to help loosen up defenses. Hopefully, Eddie Johnson will be closer to match fitness by March 17 when the Sounders open their MLS schedule against Toronto FC, but if he's not that's when I would expect to see either Sammy Ochoa or Christian Sivebaek get the start.
There are concerns with both of those options, though. Ochoa has been called out several times for his fitness not being where Schmid wanted it and Sivebaek has very limited experience at forward. It's looking quite possible that Estrada could be the place-holder, at least until Johnson reaches fitness.
An extended run at one position couldn't possibly be bad for Estrada. His most productive season at UCLA was his freshman year when he scored 12 goals and had four assists while primarily featuring at forward and starting just 13 of 24 matches.
In MLS, he's played almost everywhere except forward. His regular-season appearances have come as a wide midfielder and at right back. In reserve leagues, he's played mostly as an attacking central midfielder.
Wherever Estrada ends up playing, it definitely appears it will be somewhere. Considering his career up to this point, that should be seen as good news.