There’s tired out on the field and then there’s tired out in the fields.
Adrian Rebollar knows the difference.
“Working hard on the soccer field is nothing compared to what people around here have to do,” said the Monterey Bay F.C. midfielder ahead of a dream home game against MLS champions LAFC. “[They’re] out in the fields before the sun comes up, in the cold and the heat, to provide for their families.”
Rebollar grew up in the heart of fruit-growing country in Watsonville, California – tucked away in Santa Cruz County with Monterey Bay to the south. His father, who emigrated from Mexico City before Adrian was born, worked his way up from picking strawberries and raspberries all day – day after day – to become a supervisor in the fields. And his mother, after the picking day ended, sold strawberries from the back of a truck in the parking lot of a local K-Mart.
“I grew up in this,” said Rebollar, who was outstanding in the second-year USL Championship side’s shock win over the San Jose Earthquakes of MLS in the Open Cup Third Round. “Growing up, a lot of my friends and their families came from Mexico and were undocumented, so working in the fields was a job they could do and were willing to do. And they did it for a lot of years.”
Forged in Those Fields
“It’s a Watsonville’s thing,” he added of his hometown, ten miles inland from the Pacific coast. It’s predominantly latino and working class. And it’s smack in the middle of the area’s agricultural economy.
Rebollar is short and wiry. A tireless player who reads the game with a maturity beyond his 23 years. And he didn’t grow up on the edges, getting whiffs here and there of the hard work done by the people of Watsonville. He was forged in it.
Rebollar went on to play with the local college side at California State University, Monterey Bay. It was clear that there was a future for him playing the game professionally if he was willing to work for it. And when Monterey Bay F.C. – a second-division pro club – launched at the tail-end of his graduation year of 2021, it was a perfect fit.
A local player with the talent to match his willingness to grind.
‘A Great Story’
“For him [Rebolloar] to end up playing for the local professional team is amazing,” said Monterey Bay’s head coach and Sporting Director, Frank Yallop, who was twice an MLS Coach of the Year. “He…ended up not only signing with us, but doing really well – it’s a great story.
“Adrian is a lovely kid who’s got great energy,” added Yallop, who led the San Jose Earthquakes to a pair of MLS titles (2001 and 2003). “He gives you 100 percent in every training session, he’s really a joy to coach.”
His connection to the roots that have produced the area’s new professional club is hard to overestimate. The cozy Cardinale Stadium, where the team play their home games, is on the grounds of his alma mater. “We used to have our (CMB) spring-season running sessions right here where the field is now – like our fitness tests and all that,” Rebollar chuckled about the 6000-seat stadium’s location.
Monterey Bay F.C. – where Robollar plays alongside his college teammate Walmer Martínez (born in Santa Cruz, and now a full international with El Salvador) – have improved immensely from their freshman year of 2022. Then, they finished second-bottom in the USL standings and lost in the Open Cup to the local third-division side Bay Cities (of NISA).
At the time of this story’s publishing, MBFC sit firmly in sixth place in the USL Championship’s western standings. And they’ve put one MLS giant in the ground already, as they get set to welcome another to Cardinale Stadium on May 9 (in a game broadcast LIVE on the CBS Sports Golazo Network).
LAFC an Underdog Opportunity
“It’s another giant coming to town,” said Rebollar about the arrival of LAFC, who Philadelphia Union boss Jim Curtin recently called “probably the best team” in MLS history. “We’re that underdog story. We’ve got nothing to lose and everything to win.
“We 100 percent expect a sell-out [crowd],” he said. One thousand tickets sold for the big game the day they went on sale. And many of those early buyers were the people Rebollar grew up with. The ones who work out in the fields from dawn till dusk – showing him what it means to be strong.
“My family’s out there for every home game,” said Rebollar, who’ll be surrounded by loved ones and well-wishers when Carlos Vela and LAFC arrive in town. “Cousins and uncles and family friends. High school friends too. It’s extra motivation to look up, before a game, and see them there.”
“They’re behind me,” he added of those folks, symbols of commitment and unyielding love, up in the stands. “They’re behind us.”
Fontela is editor-in-chief of usopencup.com. Follow him at @jonahfontela on Twitter.