For as long as he can remember, Eric De La Cerda dreamed of becoming the starting goalkeeper of the San Jose Earthquakes.
The Gilroy native is one step closer to making that a reality after he signed a Major League Soccer (MLS) NEXT Pro contract last month to play for the Quakes second team, or Quakes II. De La Cerda, 20, attended his first three years of high school at Christopher before graduating from Santa Teresa High in San Jose in 2019.
“This is a huge moment because I’m from the area and grew up a San Jose Earthquakes fan,” he said. “I always talked with my dad about wanting to be a homegrown player for the Quakes because that’s an honor. I still have one more level to get to the first team, and I’m excited to be in that position.”
This is actually De La Cerda’s second pro contract after he had a stint with the Quakes’ former United Soccer League (USL) Championship affiliate Reno 1868 FC, which folded after the 2020 season.
“Reno was a little bit hectic (because of Covid), so maybe I didn’t get to enjoy it or feel it as much, but this one hits a little differently,” he said. “It’s a dream come true for me and my family.”
The 5-foot-8, 180-pound De La Cerda knows what it’ll take to get that call-up to the first team as he’s already spent some time training with the group, including with current starting goalkeeper J.T. Marcinkowski, when Marcinkowski was on loan in Reno.
Just like the first team, Quakes II plays its home games at PayPal Park and wears the same kits that is only differentiated by a small second team mark on the lower left side. De La Cerda was the starting keeper for the last Quakes II match, a 1-0 loss to North Texas SC on April 17.
The Quakes are 1-2-0 and next play Tacoma on April 25 at PayPal.
De La Cerda grew up in Gilroy and attended Luigi Aprea Elementary and Brownell Middle School before his time at Christopher.
He joined the Quakes Academy in 2012, playing up three age groups which was a harbinger for his future prospects. Because the Academy forbids players from playing for a high school team, De La Cerda never suited up for Christopher.
That was one of the sacrifices he made to stay on course for a potential pro career. From the time he joined the Quakes Academy, De La Cerda basically did what was needed for every team he played on as he advanced in age.
De La Cerda said he really started to bloom from 2014 on. Starting that season and in the succeeding years, he was called up to the U15/16 national team and selected to play in the Generation Adidas Cup, a competition run by MLS for all U17 MLS Academy teams.
“That was a pretty big accomplishment because not a lot of players get to go to that event,” he said. “I got to showcase my talent and potential and even got a one-year deal with Adidas.”
De La Cerda continued to move up levels and in 2020 played for Reno, a second division pro soccer team, one level below MLS. After Reno folded in October 2020 due to the economics of Covid, De La Cerda faced some uncertainty as to where he would play next.
“The 2021 year was up in the air,” he said. “I was training with the Quakes which was kind of like our U19 Academy team along with the first team, so I was not playing much. We played a lot of scrimmages with a lot of local teams and clubs, and then we got the hint MLS was going to build a second team and make a new league for guys like me. So I kind of kept with that squad until I signed (in the first week of March).”
From an early age, De La Cerda said he had excellent footwork and was able to play the ball out of the back, which is an essential component for goalkeepers in today’s game.
“Especially in the modern game of soccer, if the goalie doesn’t know how to play the ball at his feet well, the team is essentially playing with 10 men,” he said. “I lack height for a goalkeeper, but I feel I’ve been able to make up for it with my feet and quick reflexes and being able to get from post to post quicker than most guys.”
De La Cerda got his start in goal in the most innocuous of ways. He was playing for Almaden FC in 2009 when the starting keeper was gone on vacation. The team didn’t have a designated backup at the time so the coach asked the team if anyone wanted to fill in.
“I was the first to raise my hand and I had an amazing game,” De La Cerda said. “I was able to dribble the ball out of the back, play long balls and I saved a penalty kick in that game. After that, I never really came out of the goal.”
As De La Cerda improved, he started receiving invites to prestigious Player Development Program (PDP) camps and tournaments, then to national team camps. De La Cerda credits his family for putting a soccer ball in his hands at such an early age that by his second birthday he was kicking the ball 20 yards.
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]