Cameron Iwasa smiled when he talked about his whirlwind three months trying to become a professional soccer player, an odyssey that took him from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Montreal and to San Jose before winding up back in the comfort of the Sacramento home where he grew up.
“It’s been a wild ride, but I think it’s worked out pretty well,” said Iwasa, a Republic FC rookie forward and former Jesuit High School two-sport star. “It was always in the back of my mind that it would be awesome to play professionally in my hometown.”
After two failed bids with Major League Soccer teams, Iwasa joined an injury-ravaged Republic FC on a Tuesday for a tryout and was offered a contract after the next day’s practice. Three days later, on March 21, he made his pro debut in the 72nd minute of Republic FC’s USL opener against Sounders 2 in Seattle.
Iwasa, 21, started the next two games, a 3-2 win at the LA Galaxy II on March 28 and Saturday against the Timbers 2 in Portland, when Iwasa scored his first goal in Republic FC’s 2-1 loss.
It came in the 61st minute on a layoff from fellow rookie Joaquin Rivas that drew Timbers 2 goalkeeper Jake Gleeson away from the net. Iwasa, running to the right of Rivas, knocked the ball into the goal for a 1-0 lead.
“It’s still kind of weird to call myself a professional soccer player,” Iwasa said.
Although Iwasa is from Sacramento, he has never seen Republic FC play at home. He has experienced the team’s success through family and friends, diehard fans of the defending USL champions who have attended matches at Bonney Field and Hughes Stadium.
So Iwasa is looking forward to the electric atmosphere expected at Republic FC’s USL home opener Saturday against LA Galaxy II at expanded Bonney Field.
“Hopefully I’ll be in the starting lineup again, but either way I’m looking forward to that atmosphere,” Iwasa said.
Iwasa spent the last four years at UC Irvine, where he played a school-record 85 matches and helped the Anteaters reach the NCAA playoffs three times. He scored 22 goals, including eight game winners, and was named an NSCAA All-American and MAC Hermann semifinalist as the best college player in the nation his senior year.
As a Jesuit junior and senior, Iwasa helped the Marauders go 58-1-0, win back-to-back section championships and earn two national No. 2 rankings. He scored 42 goals in his senior year in 2010. But Iwasa was equally talented in baseball; the third baseman-outfielder batted .384 and drove in 51 runs his final two seasons.
Iwasa always was a key contributor to his high school and college teams, but now he’s adjusting to being a role player for Republic FC.
He’s not sure he will play Saturday with injured veteran forwards Justin Braun (adominal strain) and Thomas Stewart (left foot) rounding into shape. MLS veteran David Estrada also is in the mix.
Republic FC coach Preki says Iwasa still has a lot to learn.
“He’s done OK,” Preki said. “But he’s got a long way to go. He scored a goal, and he had another couple of moments where he showed some things. But that’s not enough. You’ve got to play 90 minutes, nonstop. You got to be working to help people defensively all the time.”
Veteran Republic FC midfielder Rodrigo Lopez sees Iwasa’s potential.
“He works hard and is pretty good on the ball,” Lopez said. “He’s fast, so he brings something different from all our other forwards. He’s also a good kid off the field.”
After failing to land contracts with the Montreal Impact and the San Jose Earthquakes of MLS earlier this year, and worried that most of his options were closed, he got the 11th-hour call from Republic FC technical director Graham Smith with an invitation to come home to play for the organization that bills itself as “Built for MLS.”
“I’m so thankful how things have worked out,” Iwasa said. “To play in my hometown and for the team that won the championship last year just puts things over the top.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.