Photo courtesy of UCSB Media Relations/Adam Caira
By ADAM SERRANO
It's not hard to recognize the talent of UCSB midfielder Luis Silva.
A dynamic playmaker with a penchant for scoring goals from anywhere on the field, Silva is considered to be a top-10 pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft. However, prior to being considered one of the finest players to ever play for the Gauchos and a surefire first-round pick in MLS, he was like many young men, who preferred the soccer field to the classroom.
After his parents' divorce, the native of Zanatepec, Oaxaca was heavily influenced by his uncle, Leonel Villatoro. Villatoro understood his nephew's unique talent and sought to protect him from squandering his talent by rejecting school and giving into the easy money provided by fiercely competitive Los Angeles Sunday leagues.
"He didn't want me to get into the mentality where I need to play on Sunday because I have a $100 waiting for me," said Silva. "He would tell me that if I ever needed anything, I should go to him, and that really helped a lot, because it kept me from playing every Sunday for $100.
"He's really involved in soccer, and he invited me to play with him once, and ever since then we've been best buddies. He's always been pushing me to be better."
Although Villatoro has served as a stabilizing force in Silva's life, the dynamic midfielder from Salesian High School in East Los Angeles still struggled to balance the pressures of the classroom with the rigors of the soccer field. Near the end of high school, Silva was selected to join the Chivas USA Under-19 team and soon drew interest from Mexican clubs eager to sign the teenager.
Although interest from Mexican teams was intriguing, Silva's mother and uncle urged him to return to school in hopes of earning a spot on a Division I school roster. Eager to repay their faith, Silva returned to the classroom and soon — with a little help from his club coach — earned a tryout with UCSB.
"He was a player that got missed in the recruiting process, because academically there was a question mark if he was going to get all the classes that he needed to be eligible to play Division I," said UCSB head coach Tim Vom Steeg. "There was a question of whether he'd even play college soccer, but he was someone that for us came into our program, and immediately we'd saw that he was a very intelligent player who understood the game and made runs on the field that separated him from a lot of players. "
At UCSB, Silva immediately flourished in Vom Steeg's system, overcoming injuries in his freshman and sophomore seasons to become an integral part of the Gauchos' offense. After his junior season, in which he scored six goals and had four assists, Silva was rumored to be in the mix for a Generation adidas contract, but the offer never came, necessitating that he return to UCSB for his senior season.
"There was rumors that I was getting a GA contract [after his junior year], but I never really found out. I heard that I was in the mix, but I never really found out that I was going to get offered," said Silva. "I was definitely interested, so maybe you're a little angry that you didn't get it.
"For me, I take that in a good way, and that made me think that 'They don't think that you're ready, so you need to prove yourself during your senior year,' which I think I did. I think I let people know that I'm capable of playing at that level. "
And show people he did — Silva finished his senior season with the Gauchos scoring an impressive 17 goals and accounting for 10 assists. He earned a number of individual accolades in addition to helping lead UCSB to a third-round NCAA tournament appearance. Fresh off his most successful season, Silva once again spurned potential opportunities in Mexico, choosing to enter the 2012 SuperDraft.
Considered to be a top-10 prospect, Silva enters this weekend's MLS combine as one of the most intriguing players.The 23-year-old playmaker will be joined by former teammates Sam Garza, James Kiffe (Both with UCSB) and Chandler Hoffman (PDL's Orange County Blue Star) as well as dozens of other perspective draft picks.
Despite having hoards of pundits, coaches and scouts dissecting his every move, Silva has turned a blind eye to the pressure, rather choosing to relish his chance to compete against the best.
"It's the top players in the league so I just want to go out there, have fun and play soccer," said Silva. "I don't look at mock drafts. It's my uncle that keeps up with all those drafts and tells me where I am. … I'm just looking forward to be playing."
And when draft day comes and Silva is sitting in the Kansas City Convention Center, anxiously awaiting for his name to be called, it will be Villatoro who will once again be right beside him.
"He's not missing that," said Silva. "It'll be a big day for the both of us."