Hidden Cap: David Quesada Makes a Career of It In and Against Costa Rica
It seems almost everything in David Quesada’s pro career occurred by happenstance.
Whether it was his first professional contract, a place in Salvadoran soccer history or his only appearance with the U.S. Men’s National Team, none of it was planned.
“It’s all about timing in anyone’s career,” said former LA Galaxy teammate Clint Mathis. “You just want to get your foot in the door.”
The randomness in Quesada’s life had consequences for his career, some not so good. But there were moments.
From starting out at San Diego State or finishing his career in his familial homeland of Costa Rica, the La Cañada, Calif., native’s path had obstacles and twists that might have deterred others.
He didn't get any minutes the first year he was at San Diego State in 1989, thanks to the presence of forwards Jeff Betts and Eric Wynalda, who has the third-most goals in U.S. MNT history. He was redshirted as a freshman.
After two notable seasons, he was recruited by Sigi Schmid, then the coach at UCLA. With the paperwork for his transfer complete, he was looking forward to joining the Bruins in the fall of 1992 when his parents, both Costa Rican immigrants considering retirement back to their native country, decided to spend the summer in the Central American nation.
Quesada wanted to make sure he arrived at training camp fit, so he looked around for somewhere to train. He was invited to play by Costa Rican first division club Alajuelense. His grandfather had played with the club, and his father was a member before moving to the United States at age 15.
“I started with their junior team, scored a couple of goals, then moved up, and they asked me, ‘Do you want to stay?’” Quesada said.
It was only the first brush with serendipity that Quesada would experience.
Alajuelense had brought in a Czech general manager named Ivan Mrass, who was looking to improve the fitness and attitude toward the club.
“He came from a European background, which is more like an American background,” Quesada explained. “I ran a lot, worked hard. Costa Ricans are big on touch, but a little lazy on fitness. He wanted to change that. I was big, and European soccer is a lot of strength.”
Only 21 years old, Quesada wrestled with the notion of a pro contract for weeks. His mother didn’t want him to quit school, his sister already was attending UCLA, and, after all, the Bruins were one of the top college soccer programs in the country.
“I called Sigi and told him, “I appreciate everything you did, but I’m signing a pro contract.’ He was not very happy,” Quesada said sarcastically. “He did a lot of work. It was a tough decision, but I was having too much fun training with Alajuelense.”
With the support of extended family (his great aunt had been Costa Rica’s Minister of Education and his great uncle the Central American billiards champion), Quesada remained with Alajuelense for two years, but never made it into a first team game.
Mrass explained to Quesada that because Alajuelense was one of the biggest clubs in the country, his chances to get regular time were going to be limited and loaned him to AD Ramonese in San Ramon, a town of about 10,000 people 40 miles northwest of San Jose.
In only 18 games, he scored 15 goals, including two against Alajuelense in the league playoffs.
It was a performance that earned him a transfer to 29-time Costa Rican champion Saprissa, and – backhandedly – a look from U.S. National Team coach Steve Sampson.
Sampson had contacted Tico goalkeeper Luis Canejo, a hero from Costa Rica’s run to the second round of the 1990 FIFA World Cup, to inquire about Roy Lassiter, who had been playing in the Central American country since 1992 and was with Alajuelense at the time.
“Sampson called (Canejo) looking for Roy Lassiter,” Quesada recalled. “But he said: ‘Hey, there’s also another American down here. He played for San Ramon. His name is David Quesada.’”
That got Quesada called into camp and he saw his brief moment on the U.S. National Team in a 2-1 loss to Costa Rica in May 1995, playing officially for two minutes as a late substitute for John Kerr. Later that summer, he would also play in the exhibition Parmalat Cup, getting 17 minutes in a 2-1 win against Benfica.
The game didn’t count as a cap since it was against a club team. But facing competition for a spot on the U.S. front line with Wynalda, Roy Wegerle, Frank Klopas, Joe-Max Moore, Cobi Jones and now Lassiter, who scored the winning goal against Benfica, Quesada never received another look.
He returned to Costa Rica and Saprissa, scoring 23 goals in 1997 and helping it to a runner-up finish in the league.
His performance also earned him a one-game loan to CD FAS for the 1996 Salvadoran championship game, where he scored the lone goal in the second leg of the final to clinch the title. It resulted, he remembered, in El Salvador invoking a transfer deadline to deny any more moves like his.
Finally, he was gaining respect from his peers and the Costa Rican public.
“My parents may have been Costa Rican, but (Costa Ricans) looked at me as an American,” Quesada said. “My Spanish wasn’t very good. My parents would talk to me in Spanish, and I always answered them in English.
“I had a bad accent, but after about a year I was fluent. They knew I was American, they called me ‘gringo,’ but I proved I belonged by scoring goals. That kind of went away, and then finally I was good because I was Costa Rican. They refused to believe I was American.”
With the start of Major League Soccer, Quesada was approached about joining the new league, but with a year left on his contract, Saprissa demanded a $100,000 transfer fee. Realizing MLS was unwilling to pay it, Quesada thought he’d have to wait until his contract expired to move. However, Quesada lobbied Saprissa until the club finally relented, and by 1998 he was signed by the Galaxy via a “discovery” claim.
This time the confluence of events worked against him. The Galaxy roster already included Jones and Welton, who finished among the top three scoring leaders in MLS, in addition to Mathis and later Carlos Hermosillo, who arrived midway through the season. The team finished with an MLS-record 85 goals in 1998. Once again, Quesada was squeezed out, leaving him with just nine minutes in one game.
“In the modern environment, he would have ended up differently,” Wynalda said. “It is a bit of a tragedy that he didn’t get a fair look (in MLS). When the league started, there were 10 teams, and not lot of people knew what they doing. It was just bizarre.”
Without an offer from another MLS club, Quesada returned to Costa Rica for one more season at Herediano. Then, with his first child on the way, he retired at 28 and returned to the Los Angeles area before eventually taking over his father’s construction business.
“Whether it’s fair or not fair, there are a list of guys who didn’t get their full due,” Mathis said. “Look at Jason Kreis, Taylor Twellman … whether it’s fair or not, it’s timing.”
Quesada has kept his hand in soccer, first as an assistant coach at Claremont McKenna College, where Dan Calichman has been head coach for more than a decade, and now at the club where his children, 13-year-old Kyle and 9-year-old Danielle, play—CZ Elite SC in Pasadena.
“I just wanted to play,” Quesada said. “If they had said, ‘Do you want to play for free?’ I probably would have played for free.”