PDP Alumni in the Professional Ranks: 2020 Year in Review
For the past few years, NorCal Premier Soccer’s Player Development Program has helped the top prospects in the state take another step in the right direction in their soccer careers by providing high-level, free-of-cost trainings throughout the year. Several years into the program, we’re starting to see the impact of those trainings at the highest levels as several players who PDP helped develop now get minutes for various first teams in all parts of the world. Overall, X players who spent time in PDP made their professional debuts in 2020, while nearly 30 alums played first team ball for pro clubs, and two registered caps with senior national teams.
To highlight the successes of our former PDP players, NorCal checked in with all the program’s alums to chart their progress. The following is a list of all PDP alums who played professional soccer this year. Listed with each player is the club they currently play for, their youth club in NorCal Premier Soccer, and a brief summary of their accomplishments in 2020:
Luis Arriaga — Real Salt Lake/Real Monarchs SLC (Santa Rosa United)
After making his professional debut last year for Real Salt Lake, the 19-year-old Luis Arriaga spent most of 2020 on loan at the club’s reserve team: Real Monarchs SLC. In the truncated USL Championship season, Arriaga played in 10 games and scored his first professional goal.
Shaft Brewer — Fram Larvik (Sacramento United)
Since turning pro in 2018, 21-year-old Shaft Brewer has made a handful of appearances for different clubs in both MLS and the USL Championship, but this summer he made the jump over to Europe, signing with second division Norweigian club Fram Larvik. The forward made six appearances for the club in a tough season that saw them finish in last place.
Julian Chavez — Sacramento Republic FC (Sacramento United/FC Elk Grove)
Julian Chavez signed his first professional contract this season and became one of several academy players to feature for a young Sacramento Republic FC squad that made the playoffs for the seventh consecutive year. The 18-year-old midfielder played in five games for the Republic and scored his first professional goal, a 96th minute winner, in September.
Cade Cowell — San Jose Earthquakes (Modesto Ajax)
Forward Cade Cowell signed with the San Jose Earthquakes in 2019 but failed to make an appearance for the club, instead playing in four games and scoring a goal for the club’s then USL Championship affiliate Reno 1868 FC. In 2020, however, Cowell became a regular on the Quakes bench, playing in 17 of the club’s 23 games. In August, Cowell became the youngest goalscorer in Earthquakes history when he tallied against rivals LA Galaxy.
Eric De La Cerda — Reno 1868 FC (SJ Earthquakes)
After spending five years in the San Jose Earthquakes youth academy, goalkeeper Eric De La Cerda signed his first professional contract this year, joining the club’s USL Championship affiliate in Reno 1868 FC. De La Cerda would go on to make his professional debut in July in a 4-1 win against Portland Timbers 2. He played in a total of five games for Reno, allowing just six goals while making 20 saves and recording the club’s only clean sheet of the season.
Gilbert Fuentes — San Jose Earthquakes/Reno 1868 FC (BUSC)
Since making his professional debut as a 16-year-old for the San Jose Earthquakes back in 2018, Gilbert Fuentes has featured in a handful of games for both the MLS side and their former USL Championship affiliates in Reno 1868 FC. The midfielder played just once for both sides this year, but scored his first professional goal for Reno in March.
Lynden Gooch — Sunderland (Santa Cruz Breakers)
Winger Lynden Gooch made his professional debut in the English Premier League for Sunderland all the way back in 2016, parlaying his success into multiple call ups for the US National Team. The northern English club was relegated that year and again the following year, but Gooch has remained a constant in the side the whole time. The 24-year-old has made 12 appearances for Sunderland in League One this year, scoring twice while providing five assists.
Jonathan Gonzalez — CF Monterrey (Atletico Santa Rosa)
Still just 21-years-old, Jonathan Gonzalez is nearing triple digits in appearances in Liga MX for powerhouses CF Monterrey. The defensive midfielder appeared in 19 matches for the club in 2020, leading them to a fifth place finish in the Torneo Apertura after the club began the year with a winless campaign in the Torneo Clausura. Though he’s been capped three times for the full Mexican National Team, Gonzalez was not called into camp for any of El Tri’s five matches in 2020.
Ryley Kraft — Richmond Kickers (Placer United)
After making his professional debut in 2019, 22-year-old Ryley Kraft became a regular for the USL League One’s Richmond Kickers in 2020, playing in all 16 games for a club that finished fourth in the standings. The midfielder opened up his professional scoring account, hitting the back of the net twice near the end of August against New England Revolution II and Greenville Triumph SC.
Rafael Jauregui — Sacramento Republic FC (San Juan)
Though he didn’t sign a professional contract until after the conclusion of the USL Championship season, 15-year-old Rafael Jauregui became the youngest player in Sacramento Republic FC history when he made his debut in July. Jauregui went on to play in four further games for the Republic in 2020.
Benji Kikanovic — Reno 1868 FC (Placer United)
After starring for Sacramento State for two years, 20-year-old Benji Kikanovic signed with Reno 1868 FC this January and immediately provided an impact for the since-folded club. The forward played in 12 of Reno’s 16 games in the USL Championship while scoring his first professional goal in August against Tacoma Defiance. Kikanovic would go on to score once more during the regular season.
Edwin Lara — San Diego Loyal (Tecos Hayward)
21-year-old Edwin Lara began his professional soccer journey all the way back in 2017 when he signed with storied Mexican club CF Pachuca. After being unable to break into the first team, the defender returned stateside in 2020, signing for USL Championship expansion club San Diego Loyal. The former US and Mexico youth international played in one game for the Loyal this year.
Sebastian Lletget — LA Galaxy (Santa Clara Sporting)
Since returning stateside from West Ham, Sebastian Lletget has been a regular in the LA Galaxy lineup whenever healthy. The attacking midfielder parlayed strong play in MLS into a role with the US National team before suffering an untimely injury in World Cup qualifying in 2017 just after scoring his first international goal. In 2020, the 28-year-old again proved his worth for club and country, scoring six goals and dishing out four assists for the Galaxy in 21 games while playing four times and scoring two goals for the USMNT. Lletget was the only American to feature in every national team game this year.
Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez — Seattle Sounders FC/Tacoma Defiance (Merced Atlas)
2019 was a banner year for 18-year-old Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez, who signed an MLS contract with the Seattle Sounders and made his MLS debut, playing in three total matches. While the forward didn’t appear in 2020 for the MLS Cup champions, he did stake his claim in the USL Championship, playing 13 times for Tacoma Defiance while scoring a goal and adding two assists.
Mario Penagos — Sacramento Republic FC (Sacramento United)
One of two academy players to sign for Sacramento Republic FC ahead of the 2020 season, Mario Penagos made his debut for the club before his 18th birthday, starting in the season opener for the Republic in the club’s last USL Championship game before it shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The attacking midfielder would go on to play in three more games for the club, scoring his first professional goal in September.
Hayden Sargis — Sacramento Republic FC (East Valley Earthquakes)
Center back Hayden Sargis was the other academy player to sign with Sacramento Republic FC in January and the 18-year-old was nothing short of a revelation for the USL Championship club. Sargis started in the opening game of the season and never looked back, finishing with the team lead in games played (15), games started (14), and minutes (1,236).
Brady Scott — Nashville SC/Sacramento Republic FC (Marin FC)
After spending three years playing for the 1. FC Koln reserve team in Germany, 21-year-old Brady Scott returned stateside, signing with MLS expansion club Nashville SC in August. The US youth international didn’t make an appearance in MLS, but did play two games in the USL Championship while on loan at Sacramento Republic FC. Scott has since moved onto 2021 MLS expansion side Austin FC.
Tommy Thompson — San Jose Earthquakes (Blues FC)
Despite signing with the San Jose Earthquakes all the way back in 2014, it took until last year for Tommy Thompson to solidify a starting role with the club. New manager Matias Almeyda converted Thompson to an outside back that year, which saw the former attacker set career highs in games played and minutes. The former US youth international built on that in 2020, playing in 20 of 23 games for the club while scoring a goal against the LA Galaxy and finishing second on the team with four assists.
Salvador Villegas Jr. — Portland Timbers 2 (Butte United)
19-year-old Salvador Villegas Jr. left Northern California back in 2017 to join the Portland Timbers academy, finally making his professional debut for Portland Timbers 2 this July. The midfielder played in a total of seven games in the USL championship this year, starting five games and adding an assist.
Tierna Davidson — Chicago Red Stars (De Anza Force)
2019 was a landmark year for Tierna Davidson, who was the first player selected in the NWSL Draft and followed that up by becoming an immediate starter and helping the US Women’s National Team to their fourth World Cup win. Still a regular starter and important piece of the USWNT, Davidson spent much of 2020 injured, playing just once in the Chicago Red Stars’ runners-up campaign at the NWSL Challenge Cup. The center back returned to the field to play two games in the NWSL Fall Series. After playing 13 times for the USWNT in 2019, the Stanford alum featured just once in 2020, a start against Japan in a 3-1 victory that clinched the SheBelieves Cup for the squad.
Luca Deza — Sevilla (De Anza Force)
During her first three years at UC Berkeley, Luca Deza played in 54 games, scoring nine goals and providing nine assists. With Cal not playing a fall season, Deza didn’t get a chance to add to any of those totals, but the midfielder took the first steps towards a professional career when she signed with Sevilla in December. She joins a club that currently sit in 10th place in the Primera Division Femenina with 12 points from nine games.
Maddy Gonzalez — FH (Santa Rosa United)
Maddy Gonzalez had something of a strange start to her professional career, signing with Icelandic club FH at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The forward was an immediate hit for the side that finished in ninth place in the Nordic country — Gonzalez played in 14 of 16 games for the club while tallying three goals.