Sunbird joins MLS (video link)
Fresno Pacific forward Paul Islas will fulfill a lifelong dream of playing in the MLS.
By Brandon Tripp, assistant director of sports information
The Fresno native was drafted in the first round with the 19th pick of the MLS Supplemental Draft by Chivas USA. In Fresno Pacific's first year in NCAA Division II Islas was the first player from DII to be drafted in 2013.
“I was watching the live feed and the draft tracker on the website and it was having trouble loading up,” said Islas. “I started getting all these texts saying congratulations and I had no idea what they were talking about until someone finally said I got drafted by Chivas USA.”
Islas capped off one of the best careers in Sunbird history with a 22-goal and 12-assist senior season that earned him multiple regional and national awards, including being named an NSCAA (National Soccer Coaches Athletic Association) Division II All-American in Fresno Pacific's first season as an NCAA institution. His season led Fresno Pacific to a second-place finish in its inaugural season in the Pacific West Conference, with more goals scored as a team than any program at the DII level (83 goals). He finished his career third all-time at FPU in goals (55) and third all-time in assists (33).
Chivas USA Director of Soccer Operations Kevin Esparza knew with those kinds of career numbers, Islas deserved a serious look from the MLS.
"Fifty-five goals opens up your eyes and 33 assists shows you he is not just a guy who can score but also a player who can create for others," said Esparza. "He is good with both feet, he's got great speed and he is a dynamic player. He has had a good college career and we hope that turns into a good pro career."
The Carson, California-based team saw in Islas a player that not only fit the team with his on-the-field skill set, but in many other areas, as well.
“Paul fits our profile for several different reasons," said Esparza. "We want good dynamic players that have the ability to entertain a crowd. We want players that represent our brand and we want good people; he fits all three."
Islas will have to hit the ground running when he arrives at training camp later this week as MLS camps got underway this past weekend. But with the opportunity laid before him, he knows this is his chance.
"This is my shot and I can't let anything get in my way," said Islas. "I just have to go down and take care business."
Beginning his career at a park on Dakota and West as a kid playing rec league soccer, Islas soon developed into one of the top young players in the country and made the United States U-18 (Under 18) team while playing at Bullard High School in Fresno and for the California Odyssey Soccer Club.
After his U-18 tour around the world Islas returned to play for the Fresno Fuego, a member of the PDL (Professional Development League), where he continued to open eyes and became a sought after Division I prospect after leading Bullard deep into the state playoffs as a high school senior.
The speedy forward enrolled at Fresno Pacific after de-committing from Division I Cal Poly San Luis Obispo just before the start of the season, wanting to stay close to home and play for coach Jaime Ramirez. Ramirez knew he was getting not only a great player on the pitch, but a great young man as well.
"Paul is a good kid. He is a hard worker and he has the skills and abilities to compete," said Ramirez. "I think he will be able to take the challenge by the new coach and I think he will be able to make the adjustment right away and show them what he is capable of doing."
Islas battled through multiple injuries during his collegiate career but never lost sight of his lifelong goal to play professionally. Most recently he has been recovering from an injury he suffered during the NCCAA (National Christian College Athletic Association) national title game when he collided with the opposing goalkeeper. Rather than staying on the sidelines Islas went back on the pitch. The Sunbirds lost the national title in a 3-2 last-second loss after the injury, but the toughness Islas displayed was a shining example of the determination he possesses. Determination he will need if he is to prove doubters wrong.
"I think some people will look at it and say he comes from a smaller school, a smaller area and it's hard to argue that,” said Esparza. “But the top goal scorer in the MLS this past year is a player that came from a Division II school. We will take a gamble and I am looking forward to watching Paul prove everybody wrong."
Islas became the second FPU soccer player to be drafted in the MLS (Orlando Ramirez, 2005, third round, San Jose Earthquakes) and looks to become the fourth player in Sunbird history to play for an MLS franchise (Ramirez, Pablo Campos, Milton Blanco).
"I still feel like he has better years to come in terms of his development," said Jaime Ramirez. "I think MLS will be fortunate to see him and hopefully he will have the staff around him to groom him into a fine professional."
Chivas USA opens its season March 2 against the Columbus Crew at home in the Home Depot Center.