At first, it was dirt bikes. When I was four or five, before I ever touched a soccer ball, you could find me out in Palmdale, where my grandma lives, riding dirt bikes in the desert with my uncles. I learned to ride a motorcycle before I could ride a bicycle. That’s what I wanted to do when I grew up: be a motocross racer.
I discovered soccer when I was six, mainly because my uncles were into it. That was also the year of the 2010 World Cup. Watching those games on TV had an impact on me. All of a sudden dirt biking didn’t matter anymore.
I grew up in Encino, in the heart of “the Valley.” Normal middle-class area, 20 minutes from the beach; and two minutes from any kind of food you could want. My mom and my grandparents are from El Salvador, and food is my favorite part of Salvadorean culture. My family makes pupusas, and an ice-cream type thing called charamuscas. That word is also slang for street soccer games in Central America where the rules are … shall we say … flexible.
I think I was 12 the first time I heard of LAFC. I had been playing for a club called Real SoCal since I was six. (It’s called LAFC SoCal Youth now.) We played LAFC’s academy in one of their first games – I think we lost, 2-0. I didn’t know LAFC was an MLS club. I just thought it was a regular youth team like all the others.
When LAFC called me in for a tryout, that’s when I learned it was a professional team. There was no reason for me to think otherwise because back then LAFC was just an academy. There was no first team yet. No Carlos Vela, no stadium.
After that first training session they told me, ‘If you wanna join us, we’ll take you.’ I was like, ‘Cool, thanks.’ I felt conflicted because I had played for Real SoCal for six years—for half my life. I thought, Do I branch out and do something new, or play it safe and stick with what I know?
I’m so glad I made that leap.
My current teammate Erik Dueñas made the same decision about a year before I did. He joined LAFC before there was even a crest or a practice field. Things were already getting built when I got here; the club was closer to a finished product.
I remember my first home match at the new stadium. To me, the fans are still the biggest difference between LAFC and other MLS clubs. No disrespect to them, but our supporters are more passionate and more united than at the other stadiums we play in. I felt it right off the bat that first match.
I felt it again when I helped out as a ball boy during first-team matches. I was standing right next to the post when Carlos Vela scored that equalizer against the Galaxy in 2019. You can see me in the video and the photos.
Just to backtrack a little: I had always been a Real Madrid fan, and then I came across a Borussia Dortmund match on TV and I saw Marco Reus play. I was like, ‘Damn, that guy’s really good.’ Just so smart. He became my favorite player. And here I was – not only on the field next to first-division players like Reus – I was training to become one of them. It was surreal.
I have always felt overlooked as a player. I’ve always had the sense of being on the outside looking in. Before LAFC told me they wanted me, I had never felt like anyone’s first option. I was never the guy a scout would point to and say, He’ll be on the first team one day. I didn’t have that expectation. LAFC taught me to expect success. To prepare for it.
If I had to pick one reason why I’ve made it here -- on the roster of the reigning MLS champions – I’d say: mentality. I credit my dad for that. Since I was little he told me, Whatever you’re good at, try and do it perfectly, so no one can deny that you’re a difference maker. What I was good at was attacking, creating chances, and finishing them. Hitting the net is what guys who play my position are judged on. As an academy player, I remembered what my dad told me and I started scoring more goals. When the stats and the eye test say that you’re on your way, then you’re on your way.
Signing a contract with the first team didn’t mean I got to choose my jersey number, though. I wore number 95 (because of Lightning McQueen from Cars) when I played for our second team in Las Vegas in 2022. I wanted to keep wearing 95, but they gave me 27. I wasn’t gonna argue!
That number has been on my back during the best moments of my career so far. Twenty-seven has grown on me. In our U.S. Open Cup game in Monterey Bay earlier this year (May 10), we played a team of 29- and 30-year-olds; most of our starters were teenagers like me. Nobodyexpected us to win that game. The usual starting eleven with the first team – they were focused on the Concacaf Champions League at the time, so the idea was to let them rest and get us young guys some reps against mature professionals.
We fought so hard that night. We had everything to prove and nothing to lose. I played all 120 minutes of a match that went into extra time, then to penalty kicks. My family had made the six-hour drive to Monterey, so it felt good to play well in front of them. The feedback I got afterward from our coaches was that I had performed well. The young guys – we all looked at that game as an opportunity. For me, I knew that the way I played would determine whether I’d be chosen for the first team the next game or in the stands, watching. I needed to do well—for myself and or the club—and I did.
Same situation against the Galaxy (in the US Open Cup Round of 16). We needed to create another miracle. I feel like we killed them in the first half. Then they scored after halftime on a banger, which was a difficult punch to absorb. Our gang of teenagers lost 2-0 but it was not a bad night at all. It was another step forward.
Two months later I’m under the lights with the first-team guys—Denis [Bouanga], Ilie [Sanchez], Kellyn [Acosta]. We have a lead over Juarez in a Leagues Cup match and Denis sends me a through ball into space and all of a sudden that little dirt biker from the Valley has a 1v1 with a Liga MX goalkeeper …
I was so nervous when I shot it. There would have been no excuse if I’d missed. As soon as it left my foot I was like, ‘Aw man, watch me hit the post here, it’s gonna hit the post.’
The only thing it hit was the net. Again, the main feeling was relief. Happiness that I scored my first goal with LAFC, of course. And gratitude. But also, Whew. Relief.
Our next Leagues Cup game against RSL [Real Salt Lake] I started, I played well, and I scored. It was a perfect night.
I hope to have more of those perfect nights with LAFC in the near future. I just have to remember what my dad taught me about making it so they can’t ignore me. I might not get there tomorrow or next week, but I will eventually. Don’t bet against it.