Little was known or expected of David Estrada coming into the season, but his hat trick Saturday has vaulted him to cult status.
In 2010, when the Sounders plucked him from UCLA with the 11th overall pick of the MLS SuperDraft, Estrada had just walked into his Salinas, Calif., home and hopped online.
The Sounders were about to select when Estrada hit the Internet. The next thing he heard was MLS Commissioner Don Garber saying his name.
That sent the 5-foot-8, 160-pounder out the back door, where he screamed and cried with joy. He called his cousin in disbelief to tell him the news.
I did not expect it at all, Estrada said then. Third or fourth round third round I was going to be happy with, fourth round I was thinking maybe I should go back to school.
So, it was no surprise the at-times self-doubting Estrada was as stunned as the legions who witnessed his hat trick Saturday in the Sounders’ MLS-opening 3-1 win over Toronto.
He scored in the 17th minute, 51st minute and 62nd minute. When he was substituted for in the 87th minute, Estrada jogged off to mass applause. Head coach Sigi Schmid, whose UCLA ties helped get the Sounders interested in Estrada, shook his hand then blotted him out with a hug.
The crowd chanted his name. Estrada sat down. Afterward, when speaking with reporters in the locker room, he nearly cried.
Its been a long time coming, Estrada said Saturday.
He walked on at UCLA, then set the schools freshman scoring record with 12 goals. Soccer America named him the National Freshman of the Year. A fractured foot and subsequent surgery hampered his sophomore season. His junior year, his leg healed but frame of mind became skewed when the goals didnt happen again.
Im sure there were times when he questioned his ability a little bit; all high-level soccer players go through that in their careers, UCLA coach Jorge Salcedo told me in 2010.
Sean Henderson, brother of Sounders technical director Chris Henderson, and Salcedo roomed together for a couple of years at UCLA. That helped Salcedo get familiar with Chris, who also played at UCLA. Schmid has large ties to the school since he coached there for 22 years. Estrada was right under their noses.
They worked out Estrada at an invitational camp in Las Vegas. Schmid and general manager and part owner Adrian Hanauer saw enough to draft him.
Estrada didnt receive a sniff for the first two years. The Sounders were teaching him how to play right back this preseason. Opportunity emerged for Estrada following a trade of young forwards Lamar Neagle and Mike Fucito in late February. Estradas improved play at the end of last season was in part a harbinger for that deal.
But, no one thought this would happen — the third hat trick in club history, following Blaise Nkufo and Lamar Neagle. Hanauer thought Estrada was a possible piece on this years roster.
He was one of a number of young players who weve drafted or brought in who were going to be battling for a roster spot and then playing time, Hanauer said of his projection for Estrada. As Sigi said, at the end of the last season we started to see a little bit more, but Id be lying if I expected him to come in and score a hat trick on opening day.
Hanauers honesty was trumped by Estradas. Twice he paused in front of post-game microphones to gather his emotions so they would allow his mouth to again move. He credited others for the night, including his grandfather, whom he never met, for starting a love and legacy of soccer around him.
Estrada left with the same emotions of the 38,709, the largest crowd at CenturyLink Field for an MLS opener. He was elated, stunned and thankful.
A circuitous route left him under arced glass on the bench Saturday hearing his name powered out by a stadium full of revelers because he had scored three goals in a pro match. He didnt know what to say or how to react.
Luckily, the fans did.