David Estrada occupies an interesting place in Seattle Sounders history. His MLS career started off somewhat ignominiously when many observers felt he was a bit of a reach at No. 11 overall in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. The skeptics mostly seemed to be proven right when the UCLA product played fewer than 90 minutes his rookie year and only marginally more in his second.
Somewhat surprisingly, though, Estrada found himself as the starting forward going into 2012 while Eddie Johnson was still working himself back to full fitness after being acquired late in the preseason. Estrada responded with a goal in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, helping lift the Sounders to a 2-1 win over Santos Laguna in the first leg. It was his first professional goal and just his third professional start.
Coming off a humbling 6-1 loss to Santos Laguna in the second leg, Estrada again found himself starting in the MLS regular-season opener against Toronto FC. He responded even more powerfully.
The 24-year-old was showing himself a quality partner for Fredy Montero from the start, occupying centerbacks and creating space for the talented Colombian.
Estrada’s first goal came off a goal-mouth scramble, showcasing some impressive ball control to poke the ball into the net. The play also featured an absolutely epic Cruyff turn by Alvaro Fernandez that left former UW defender Ty Harden flat on the ground.
Estrada’s second goal came shortly after halftime, getting behind the TFC defense and cooly finishing inside the near post. It was at least the second time that Estrada had taken advantage of TFC’s high line, and this time he made the most of it despite nearly allowing himself to be caught from behind.
His third goal was probably the most impressive, as he worked a nice 1-2 with Fernandez and finished first time to complete the hat trick. You could sense Estrada feeling himself in the moment, as the normally reserved player flashed the three-finger sign to supporters.
The game took place on St. Patrick’s Day and MLSsoccer.com ran the headline “St. Hat Tricks Day.”
Soft-spoken and not remotely used to the spotlight, Estrada was fighting back tears in the postgame locker room when talking to reporters.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said that night. “I’m thankful for these guys around me. Mauro Rosales, Fredy Montero — I’m always putting myself down — but he’s always there to pick me up ... It’s been a long time coming.”
Estrada would follow up with a goal in his next game, giving him five over the first four competitive matches of the season. But Johnson returned from injury a couple games later, moving Estrada to the wing where he struggled to maintain his scoring output. He would score just one more goal that year — in another game he started as the No. 9 — but then he got hurt and didn’t start another match that season. He’d only make one more start for the Sounders before eventually being traded to D.C. United in August 2014.
Estrada bounced around a few USL teams with varying levels of success before finding his way back to the Sounders organization in 2018, where he joined S2 with the express understanding that he was there as much to nurture the team’s youngsters as to contribute on the field. He proudly became the first player in organization history to wear the No. 74 jersey — a nod to Sounders history — and led the team with 11 goals. Now 32, he’s playing for New Mexico United. It’s his 11th season as a professional soccer player and I’d be shocked to hear any of his former teammates have anything but overwhelming praise for him.
Although it turned out to be a bit of a flash in the pan, I took immense pride in Estrada’s performance that early season. I had followed his career from his prep days in Salinas, California, where I was working at the local newspaper when he scored 66 goals in a season, and was bummed when he chose to attend UCLA as a walk-on rather than accept a scholarship to my alma mater San Jose State.
We had developed a bit of a personal relationship during his first two seasons with the Sounders, when he was struggling for playing time and trying to establish himself. During that time, I had seen how popular he was among teammates because of his genuine personality.
I was bummed that he couldn’t ride that performance into a more notable MLS career. Still, it’s been wonderful seeing him carve out a career as a professional soccer player, and we’ll always have that night in March.
I had a chance to catch up with David. We chatted about his journey from the streets of Salinas to CenturyLink Field, what he’s been doing since and what he has planned going forward.