CARSON, Calif. – On Tuesday, 18-year-old right back Oscar Sorto signed a contract with the LA Galaxy becoming the fourth Homegrown signing in club history and the first defender ever. While the contract marked the start of his professional career, his journey to become a professional athlete began at the tender age of six.
That’s when Sorto and his father Oscar were driving down the street and went past McAllister Field on the campus of USC. The field, typically reserved for the USC women’s soccer team, had a different team training on it that day—the LA Galaxy.
“I remember seeing Cobi Jones because he had the colorful hair and, of course, Mauricio Cienfuegos,” said Sorto. “It was one of the moments that really motivated me because even though it’s hard, seeing a pro team train across the street from my home is something that helped me decide to become a soccer player.
“I remember [my dad] telling me to ‘look at that player, he’s a smart player’,” said Sorto. “That’s the only thing that I remember. He told me that ‘I want you to be one of those important players.’”
The player that his father was pointing to? LA Galaxy legend Mauricio Cienfuegos, who is a national hero in El Salvador, the birth country of Oscar’s father and mother.
The connection that Sorto felt to the club and the community is something that remains important for Galaxy Vice President Chris Klein, in addition to the youngster’s soccer acumen.
"It’s another example of a kid that grew up close to The HDC, following the Galaxy, that is going to be on our roster,” Klein said. “We feel that he has tremendous potential to make an impact for our club. Also, this is the first defender that we’ve signed out of academy, which shows the growth of what we’re doing with integrating [Academy] players into the first team roster.”
However, life wasn’t always so easy for Sorto, who grew up in a heavily Salvadoran portion of South Central Los Angeles. Although South Central is considered one of the roughest neighborhoods in Southern California, Sorto first learned his love for the game on the various parks and schoolyards of his neighborhood.
Even though Sorto did his best to stay away from gangs and other negative influences, it did not prevent the youngster from coming face to face with tragedy at age 11.
“I remember one day a friend was playing with me and then out of nowhere, he just walked home,” Sorto said. “The next day, we learned that he was in a drive-by shooting and he passed away. I took all those things in my head and it got me thinking that if I went down the wrong direction then I could be one of them too.
“Growing up there was tough because there are a lot of wrong directions that you can take or go, but you need to always stay focused,” Sorto added. “Like my dad always told me, ‘you just need to stay focused and not listen to anyone on the streets so if you just play soccer then one day you’ll become big.’
“I think he was right because here I am.”
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Sorto has surely made his family proud through his recent series of accomplishments, both on and off the field.
The 18-year-old recently graduated from Manuel Arts High School and has blossomed into one of the Galaxy Academy’s finest young talents. In 2012, Sorto spent half of the season training with the first team while also serving as a regular contributor for the MLS Reserve League Western Division championship winning side, appearing in seven of their 10 games. Sorto has also made a total of seven appearances for the Galaxy Under-18 side during the 2012/13 season, tallying three goals from his right back position.
“What I do best is that I make the right decisions, I don’t try to force balls into players and I like to give my best,” said Sorto. “I’m humble and a quiet player, but on the field I try to do my best to do what I can for the team.”
When Sorto makes his debut, he’ll be able to finally don the shirt of his hero Cienfuegos in a competitive match after watching him on the practice field more than a decade ago. While Cienfuegos remains a lynchpin for the Galaxy’s Salvadoran fan base, Sorto hopes to follow in those celebrated footprints.
“I think it’s a lot of pressure especially living in Los Angeles where there is a lot of Salvadorans because their passion for soccer is something special,” said Sorto. “Playing for the Galaxy is going to be big and I’m going to try and represent my blood as well as the people that I look up to.”
But before the Galaxy wunderkind takes the field during the preseason, he’s aware that there’s much work to be done to get ready for the rigors that 2013 will bring.
“I’m already working on my fitness and I’m going to try and get a little bit stronger,” said Sorto. “I want to be ready to go for the preseason.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com