There are many David Estradas.
A Calfornia kid, raised in the central valley, who went from walk-on at UCLA to become a key contributor for one of the top college programs in the country, he tasted the pinnacle of professional soccer in the United States, playing for the Seattle Sounders, and winning two U.S. Open Cups with them, as well as an MLS Player of the Week award when he scored a hat trick.
But after sliding down the striker pecking order in Seattle and being sent on a couple of loan stints, Estrada was traded to D.C. United, and his journey as a pro really began. After the trade in Aug. 2014, he never truly found his place on a D.C. side that had a pretty set rotation last season, and he was cut loose at the beginning of this season.
So he went home, in a sense, in signing with the defending USL champions, Sacramento Republic FC, and getting some consistent playing time once again. But following Preki's departure as coach in Sacramento, Estrada was once again looking for options.
With the expansion of MLS over the years from 10 to now 20 teams, and the expansion of two lower divisions, the NASL and USL, opportunities for players like Estrada have expanded enormously in recent years. To go from the pre-MLS era, when pro outdoor soccer was niche beyond niche, to today, with 55 pro teams at present in the top three divisions of American and Canadian soccer, it's obvious that players who haven't quite settled can get that next chance they may merit.
Since Estrada was cut from Sac Republic in August, the Orange County Blues moved quickly to sign him, and he's featured in four games since joining last month, notching three assists as the Blues have racked up a 3-1 record in that time.
Following OC's win over LA Galaxy II last week, Estrada was quick to credit the team's accomplishments in playing well to end the USL season and qualify for the playoffs.
"I think it's a perfect scenario for me," Estrada told The Goat Parade. "A team that is pushing for the playoffs, and I don't think they've been on a roll since I got here. I think they were on a roll before I got here. So it was just perfect for me to get inserted there and whether it be coming off the bench or starting, I wanted to help the team in any way I can. Thankfully I've been able to contribute on the stat sheet."
There is only one David Estrada.
If the story of journeyman players who struggle to find a landing spot, at any level, is fairly common, Estrada himself is rather different than most. Unlike most players with MLS experience who move to USL, Estrada had far more of that MLS experience, and on two very good teams, no less, than most vets who make an impact in USL.
And while he's only been with the team a short time, Estrada seems uniquely suited to the Blues' lineup. Playing as a withdrawn striker against LA last week, Estrada was free to roam all over the field, though he mainly worked in recovering the ball and linking up between the midfield and striker. His workrate was impressive, and while many Blues players deserved recognition for the performance, Estrada certainly had the most complete 90 minute shift on his team.
It's hard on any MLS team to break through if you're even the fourth striker on the depth chart, and even in Sacramento, where Rodrigo Lopez played that role "in the hole," Estrada could not show off his skill set fully. But with Orange County, with a corps of strikers who play up top, and talented midfielders who mostly sit deeper, Estrada can make, and has already made, his particular position his own.
And perhaps unsurprisingly, he's satisfied with the current arrangement.
"It's been so enjoyable [to play for coach Oliver Wyss]. He had reached out to Sacramento earlier in the season, so I know he was someone who wanted me here. For a player, you want to be where you're wanted. Thankfully Oliver gave me the opportunity from the get-go.
"I've just been enjoying playing soccer, which is not something I have done in a very long time, to be honest."
Estrada will go back home, in a sense, as the Orange County Blues travel to Seattle to face Seattle Sounders 2 on Friday. Finally in a situation where he's wanted, where he's able to play the position that suits him the best, and finding results, the trip back to Starfire may produce far different emotions in Estrada than it may have a short time ago.
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