From Salinas to Seattle

David Estrada has always dreamed of becoming a professional soccer player. That's all he's ever wanted. Nothing more, nothing less.

As of Thursday afternoon, it's a dream no longer.

Estrada, a senior forward at UCLA this past season, was selected 11th overall by the Seattle Sounders FC in the Major League Soccer SuperDraft.

"I was in disbelief," Estrada said in a phone interview. "I couldn't believe it."

He had to pinch himself a few times after expecting to be chosen in the third round, maybe even the fourth. At one point, Estrada was not even anticipating an invite to the annual MLS Player Combine.

That's because the consensus among scouts and coaches was that Estrada had reached his peak as a freshman. In 2006, Estrada scored a team-high 12 goals and was named Soccer America's National Freshman of the Year. He was voted UCLA's offensive MVP.

Did we mention he walked-on?

"Freshman year was like a Cinderella story," said Estrada, who once scored 11 goals in a game for Alisal High (Salinas, Calif.).

No offense to Cinderella, but walk-ons are not supposed to do what Estrada did in his first year in Westwood. He didn't initially play much but suddenly blew up. UCLA was the national runner-up in '06, in large part to Estrada's contributions as a freshman.

"I thought everything was going to come my way," he said.

Instead, Estrada suffered a fractured foot the next season and admitted that he put too much pressure on himself to perform as a junior.

With nothing to lose heading into his senior season, Estrada changed his mindset last summer.

"Coming off two disappointing years, I didn't even think I was going to go to the combine," he said. "I just let myself go. I told myself, 'Whatever happens, happens.' Mental toughness made a big difference in my game."

Always known as a player with remarkable ball-handling skills, Estrada looked quicker and more crisp this past season. He ranked second on the team in scoring behind Kyle Nakazawa (33rd selection, Philadelphia Union) with three goals and seven assists.

Estrada couldn't prevent UCLA's elimination from the NCAA quarterfinals, but things looked up when he ended up getting the call to participate at the combine. He attended a pre-combine workout in Las Vegas and Sounders coach Sigi Schmid - a former UCLA player and coach - came away impressed. Estrada's stock rose with an equally strong showing at the combine last week.

"A lot of players came in a little too comfortable thinking that they already had it in the bag," Estrada said. "I had to prove something and that really made me stand out. I was running my (butt) off up and down the field to get people to notice me. I guess it paid off.

"To be picked No. 11 means so much to me."

At least Estrada doesn't have to dream about it anymore.