TUKWILA – Eric Wynalda had just one complaint of his new player: David Estrada, on loan from Sounders FC, kept calling him “sir.”
“You have to stop,” said Wynalda, coach of the second-division Atlanta Silverbacks. “My name is Eric. Call me Eric.”
“Yes, sir,” Estrada responded.
At least that is the version told over the phone by Wynalda, a busy U.S. Soccer legend who also does broadcast work for FOX Soccer. The rest of the account of Estrada’s nearly monthlong loan to Atlanta is similar to what has been told in Seattle for five seasons — the versatile 26-year-old is as polite, humble and hardworking as any player out there.
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As hoped, Estrada’s time with the Silverbacks from April 3-27 was a win-win-win.
Atlanta got an MLS player who could be counted on to lead by example in practice and make an impact in games. The Sounders were able to get meaningful minutes for a player who had fallen behind in a ruthless battle for playing time.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “I don’t really feel like an old guy, but there I was seen as more of a leader. It was good to play that role and also just try to be a role model for guys who want to make the jump.
“I got reminded of why I do this. Those guys want to be where I am.”
Loans tend to be a below-the-radar aspect to the Sounders season, especially with such quality depth. Two budding defenders, Eriq Zavaleta and Jimmy Ockford, are away on loan for the entire season, and reserve goalkeeper Josh Ford was recently loaned on a short-term basis to the third-division Orange County Blues.
Playing time is the most important facet to the loans, according to coach Sigi Schmid. He noted players can also benefit from a different environment and perhaps even come to understand how good things are in Seattle.
Sometimes, though, it might be too good.
The strength of the Sounders’ depth up front has seen established MLS veterans like Kenny Cooper and Chad Barrett struggle to get consistent playing time, leaving little for younger, developing players. When Wynalda saw Barrett come off the bench and score a last-minute winner in Seattle’s Week 1 game against Kansas City, he immediately contacted Seattle sporting director Chris Henderson to inquire about Estrada’s availability.
Wynalda, whose 34 international goals rank third in U.S. Soccer history, had long been a fan of Estrada’s, dating to the forward’s career at UCLA. The two kept in touch through text messages every now and then, with Wynalda checking in during highs (Estrada’s hat trick against Toronto in the 2012 MLS opener) and lows (Estrada’s broken foot later that season).
“He’s so polite and he’s such a good human being that that stayed with me,” Wynalda said. “We don’t have enough guys like that who just put their heads down at work, put a smile on their face and put a smile on their heart. They love the game, and they just want to do well.”
Wynalda’s brazen, honest-to-a-fault personality might seem an odd fit with Estrada’s unassuming nature, but both sides fondly recall the shared 3½ weeks that helped strengthen a meaningful relationship.
Said Estrada: “His coaching style and his enthusiasm for the game, you hear it on television, but when you sit with the guy and talk with him, you can definitely notice that love and passion. I think it’s contagious.”
Added Wynalda: “Love that kid. I don’t think I could love a player more. But he’s got to stop calling me ‘sir.’ ”
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @joshuamayers