By Seamus Geoghegan
It was when she first played in the goal that Alexia Estrada discovered her passion for soccer. Estrada found herself in the position after the last goalkeeper was injured. This year, she found herself representing Guatemala in world cup qualifiers.
Estrada grew up in South San Francisco where she got an introduction to soccer, kicking the ball around while her sister did swim lessons. “I would walk to orange Park and just kick the ball by myself,” Estrada said.
“[I remember] when she was 10 years old and first started playing goalkeeper,” said Hugo Estrada, Alexia Estrada’s father. “When she got her first jersey, it was bigger than her.”
Both of Estrada’s parents are Immigrants, something she sports proudly.
“My dad came from Guatemala when he was about 18…My mom is French and Italian but she grew up in France,” Estrada said. “So like, immigrant lifestyle. I mean, I’m the first in my family to go to college. Get a degree…I think that really influenced how I grew up.”
Estrada’s dad has been a huge part of her playing career, having been a goalkeeper himself when he played growing up. “I never played professional soccer, even though that was always a dream,” Hugo Estrada said.
“My dad was so excited when they put me in goal for the first time…I would say he was like my first goalkeeper coach. He honestly taught me like all the basics that I’ve like still use today, that I need today,” Estrada said. “I was never really like, scared of the ball, just like my dad.”
Wasting no time, Estrada quickly went from playing recreational soccer to club-level play.
“We were playing and then on the other team that we were playing there was a girl who played club and her dad was the coach of a club team,” Estrada said. “And he was like, ‘Have you guys been playing for a long time? Do you guys want to play club?’”
Estrada continued to improve rapidly, being called up to a higher level of club play before entering high school. However, it was during her time playing for South San Francisco High School that she encountered a new set of hurdles.
“I feel like high school really hurt my development as a player,” Estrada said. “[During] my sophomore year, I was still splitting time with the older goalkeeper, and then that continued throughout high school … It kind of just broke me down a bit because I felt like I was more deserving of proving my spot, you know? But I just never got that opportunity.”
Despite not feeling that she got an opportunity to prove herself, City College women’s soccer coach Jeff Wilson spotted Estrada’s potential early on.
“I think one of the things that stood out to me is that she was so coachable, and really wanted to improve,” Wilson said. “I could see that as a goalkeeper she had a lot of promise. Really good with her feet, just a good poise about her.”
However, spotting her potential was the easy part for coach Wilson. Estrada was set on attending a four-year college out of high school and didn’t take Wilson’s invitation to join his city squad seriously.
“He came out to one of my high school games to watch us and I’m sure if you talk to him, he’ll laugh about it now,” Estrada said. “He came up to me with a folder for CCSF and information about the school…The folder actually sat in my car for over two months, I didn’t even look at it. I just really didn’t want to go the Community College route.”
“[I remember] how persistent I had to be in kind of convincing her,” Wilson said. “She thinks that a good student-athlete you know, they’re not thinking community college, they’re often thinking four year school right away. And you have to kind of talk about how good it could be, the benefits of Community Community College and kind of the doors that could open.”
Estrada recognized the desire that coach Wilson had to join his city side. After considering her options and weighing what would work for her both as a player and a student, City College was the only option that made sense to her.
“I was talking to a few schools, but none of it really worked out financially and for my major,” Estrada said. “I saw how great of a coach he was, and honestly I couldn’t have pictured myself with any other coach at the time. So I just decided to go with it.”
Playing her first games for the college in the New Balance Community College Showcase in 2019, Estrada made 12 saves across 2 games, letting in just two goals.
Coming into the City team, Estrada hadn’t spent much time with a dedicated goalkeeper trainer, something that the team gave her the opportunity to do.
“So much of her ability was just kind of natural ability and learning on her own,” Wilson said. “But then when we’re able to get a true goalkeeper coach with experience…she’s so much more explosive, she reads the game better, she comes off her line so much better. There are just some of the things that she’s developed into through I think a lot of getting advice from an expert in our field.”
In her inaugural season, Estrada improved not only her technical abilities on the field but her leadership abilities too.
“I think when she stepped into college, she became more confident and became more confident being a leader to others as well,” Wilson said. “She’s a leader on and off the field. I think she does a great job of getting other players to buy in and just really supporting the coaching staff. Just kind of uplifting, she always has a smile on her face, even the most intense moments, and I think that kind of speaks to who she is.”
Forward Leslie Murillo joined the team last season and is one of the players who bought into Estrada’s infectious positivity.
“She was one of the first girls that ever talked to me on the team. She made me feel like she welcomed me,” Murillo said. “On the field, she was always so vocal. During halftime, she would talk to us individually if we needed to fix something, or talk to the whole team [during] a little hurdle.”
After a short season in 2020 where the squad won four of five scrimmages, Estrada was offered a chance to attend Shaw University in North Carolina. However, due to the NCAA’s ruling to grant college players an extra year of play due to the pandemic, she decided to keep playing for the Rams instead.
“I turned it down because COVID was on its high, and I honestly didn’t feel like it was the best fit,” Estrada said. “I felt like I could find something that I would love even more.”
Coach Wilson was happy to see Estrada stay, but said that it was ultimately the decision she made on her own terms.
“I’ve always been of the mindset that I’m here to lead them as long as opportunities are there, but if there’s another opportunity creeps up, I’ve never been the type of coach is like, ‘Hey, you shouldn’t go.’” Wilson said. “I don’t, I don’t think it’d be right for me. And it’s just not what I’m about.”
Coming into their 2021 season, Estrada and her side were more hungry than ever to play a full season of soccer, and it showed in their results. The team started the season winning their first 6 games, conceding only 3 goals.
The side kept up their great form, scoring an incredible 74 goals over 19 fixtures in their regular-season matches, a feat which netted them an 8th conference title.
After winning a game versus their pseudo-rivals Santa Rosa College 6-1, their state playoff run was cut short by Hartnell college in a crushing 1-0 defeat.
“We all had a really good season because we just worked hard for each other and for us,” said defender Elaina Gonzalez. “In the end, it was a win, because how can you ask for more?”
For Estrada, that game would be her last for the rams, announcing her move to Stanislaus State on the women’s soccer Instagram page on December 2nd.
“After talking with the coach, I just really liked the team culture, the philosophy of the team,” Estrada said. “I really want to continue playing soccer after college and that was one thing I talked about with the coach, and he’s had players that have continued play. I just felt like I could really grow as a player there.”
But that hasn’t been her only big move as of late. Estrada got a chance to try out for Guatemala’s national team in early December and was invited back to play for the squad.
“I just felt accomplished. I had set a goal for myself and you know that feeling when you achieve a goal, it just felt really good,” Estrada said. “I think just being able to go and represent my dad’s small town from Guatemala…I just know how proud I would make him myself and like everyone in that town.”
Her first game for Guatemala was a 9-0 thrashing of the United States Virgin Islands, which Estrada mostly watched happen from the goal line.
“I was really nervous…It was just like a mix of emotions like happiness, fear, nervousness, everything.” Estrada said regarding her pregame mentality. “I didn’t really have to do much honestly, my team really took care of it. But it was still a great feeling, you know, to be a part of that.”
Playing for her dad’s home country, studying at Stanislaus State, and finding free time to do anything else has been a struggle for Estrada.
“It’s overwhelming at times,” Estrada said. “It’s felt like I haven’t been in one spot for like, more than a month, honestly.”
“I wake up, eat breakfast, then I have training for weights. Then I come back, do my classes, go to school,” Estrada said, explaining her day to day. “Then I have a second training with our team, usually. Then I’ll usually hang out with some teamates, you know, go to bed and start all over again the next day.”
Estrada was interrupted by a teammate offering to save a plate of lunch shortly explaining her packed schedule.
“I’m usually always doing something or I have to go back and do homework,” Estrada said. “You don’t really get to go out like normal college students do.”
Guatemala’s world cup qualification hopes ended after a tough 2-1 loss versus St. Kitss and Nevis meant that their game versus Costa Rica was a must win; The game ended 5-0 to Costa Rica with Estrada never making an appearance.
Despite the heartbreaking end to a world cup qualification run, Estrada has more time to focus on school and other outside activities, “like normal college students do.”
Estrada’s playing career has only started, and it’s clear to those around her that there are still greater things to come.
“Alexia has never just sat and been satisfied. She just pushes herself. She’s kind of an internal person, internal kind of driver of her own success,” Wilson said. “I mean, I couldn’t really ask for more.”