BALTIMORE - JANUARY 13: This looks like a photo from a vacation tour, doesn't it?. (Photo by Ned Dishman/Getty Images)
Today's player in our end-of-season review is Victor Estupinan. The forward was drafted 14th in the first round by Chivas USA in the offseason, and while he had a pretty quiet season, he ended it on a positive note. Playing 320 minutes with the first team in 2011, Estupinan had nine appearances and three starts. Although he only got a goal this season, he saved the best for last, scoring in the season finale against the Seattle Sounders. As I wrote at the time, I hope this is the beginning of a productive MLS career for Estupinan.Estupinan garnered instant infamy when he was drafted, as he brashly proclaimed he would score 30 goals in MLS in 2011. With the exception perhaps of Simon Borg, the consensus was that Estupinan was undervaluing the level of MLS and would come nowhere close. Obviously, had he scored 30 as a rookie, he would have swept all the eligible individual awards, been by far the highest scorer in the league, and probably been sold off to a better league this offseason. There's nothing wrong with a good dose of confidence in a young striker, but in the end, he was in over his head a bit, and it seemed clear that Robin Fraser tried to put him in his place over the course of the season. He may have only gotten 3 percent of his target with the first team, but he seems a bit more humbled, which is probably for the best in the long run.
In looking at his game log, Estupinan played in the first four matches of the season, three of those as a substitute, and made little impact. He didn't play again until June 1, when he was a sub against the Vancouver Whitecaps. He provided a spark off the bench, but he blatantly dived in the box to try and draw a penalty and was given a yellow card for his efforts. He seemed pretty lost on the field, and didn't see first team action for more than a month. However, in that next match, July 6 against the San Jose Earthquakes, he started and while he couldn't manage to score, showed a dynamism that was raw but had some potential. He started again two matches later against the New York Red Bulls, but didn't look as good, although to be fair nobody on either team looked very good on the night.
In the meantime between mid-July and mid-October Estupinan established himself on the reserve team and ended up scoring five goals in the reserve league this season. He really seemed to parlay a scoring streak at the end of the reserve league season to the substitute appearance with the first team in the season finale, which again, was the location of his first MLS goal. Unlike many players, it seemed Estupinan was just getting into gear and probably would have preferred the season to continue indefinitely.
Looking ahead, I know Estupinan hasn't played much this season, and he had something of a learning curve in his first season, but I really think he could potentially provide an element that no other forward has on Chivas. The Ecuadorean has a combination of speed and technical skills that is hard to find, and he has an aggressive streak with the ball that is sorely lacking among the rest of the striker core on the team. I admit he is still quite raw, but I think he is one of the top two or three players capable of making a huge leap next season for the Goats. Clearly, we have to wait and see what personnel moves will be made this offseason, but he could move up quite a bit on the depth chart next season. Certainly, for the guys at the bottom of the depth chart this season, I think Estupinan is a far more promising player than Chris Cortez, but both players will need to continue working on their game before the 2012 season starts. Hopefully Estupinan will continue to put his head down and dream of 30 goal seasons to motivate himself.