David Estrada started one game as a rookie, another in his second season, and reported to his third Sounders FC training camp this year knowing his job was on the line.
He made the most of his chances through the preseason, and then broke out Saturday, scoring the first, second and third goals of his Major League Soccer career in leading Seattle to a 3-1 season-opening win against Toronto FC.
After the game, Estrada was asked what this breakthough performance meant to him. He waited a full 14 seconds before he managed to say in a broken voice: “It’s a long time coming.”
Despite what the night meant to him, Estrada quickly deflected the attention.
“I’m just thankful I have the teammates that I have,” he said. (Alvaro Fernandez) put me in twice. I’m thankful I have the type of players I play with every day: Mauro Rosales, Fredy Montero, Alvaro, Ozzie (Alonzo), Leo, (Marc) Burch, all those guys.”
Estrada’s big night came before a crowd of 38,709 at CenturyLink Field – the largest opening-night crowd in Sounders history.
It also helped ease the frustrations that might be lingering from Seattle’s 6-1 loss to Santos Laguna in CONCACAF Champions League play Wednesday.
“It’s always good to start off the regular season with a win – that was something that we obviously had as a goal for ourselves,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “A great performance for (Estrada), but our team tactically did what we wanted to do. ... Obviously, we’re still disappointed with what happened down in Torreon (Mexico).”
Estrada’s first goal came in the 18th minute, finishing a threat that began with stop-go-cut move into the box by Fernandez. That got the ball in front of the goal mouth, where Toronto’s Miguel Aceval tried to head the ball away while on the ground, and goalkeeper Milos Kocic got his hands to it. However, Estrada kept working and finally found a clear path to the goal.
Estrada struck again in the 51st minute, this time taking a pass from Burch, carrying it into the penalty area and beating Kocic one-on-one.
Toronto cut the lead in half in the 62nd minute, when Ryan Johnson knocked a ball in off the far post.
It said something that Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning – who had given up all six goals Wednesday – was able to joke about the one he gave up Saturday.
“Congratulations to him,” Gspurning said, before reaching into his locker, putting on and then tipping a bright green St. Patrick’s Day hat. “It was a great goal. I don’t think there was anything to do about it, and congratulations to the player.”
About a minute after, Estrada completed the third hat trick in Sounders history, joining Blaise Nkufo and Lamar Neagle.
But despite his encouraging preseason, Estrada might not have started Saturday except for injuries suffered by forwards O’Brian White and Eddie Johnson.
“We said, ‘Look, we’re going to stick you back up front – we think that’s your best spot,’” Schmid said. “His work rate is unbelievable. Nobody deserves it more in terms of the effort that they put in day in and day out.”
When Estrada was subbed out in the 87th minute, he received a huge ovation from the crowd and a big hug from his coach.
“It was incredible to have the whole stadium chant my name,” he said.
Schmid made two changes from his lineup at Santos Laguna: both on the back line, where Patrick Ianni started for Jeff Parke, and Burch for Leo Gonzalez.
“We wanted to make a couple of changes, but we didn’t want to change too much,” Schmid said. “Ianni, I’ve always felt was a capable MLS center back. ... And Burch has trained well and played well in the reserve games that we’ve played, so we felt him coming on and his ability as well to hit balls in behind the defense was something that could help us in this game.”
Seattle returns to action Friday, when Houston visits CenturyLink Field.