East LA College goalkeeper overcomes life’s obstacles

KICKED AROUND—The ball gets a workout as East LA College’s goalkeeper Juan Escobar blocks it preventing a goal, in a 1-1 tie with El Camino College Compton Center on Nov. 2 followed by a drop and kick punt. CN/Veronica Hurtado

By Liliana Marquez


Juan Escobar overcame injuries and illness that could have forced him to abandon soccer to become the starting goalkeeper during his two seasons representing the East Los Angeles College men’s soccer team.

Escobar, 19, who was born in Hollywood and raised in South Gate, is currently playing his last season with the men’s soccer team.

Escobar is the oldest of Juan Escobar and Maria Castillo’s four children. Although Escobar has accomplished a lot of things, life has not been easy for him.

He suffered three injuries that could have left him out for this season, but he refused to let this stop him.

“I messed up my calf, the tendons behind my knee and my hamstring in one movement. It was hard because college season was around the corner and it didn’t look like it was getting any better,” Escobar said.

Despite those injuries, he never gave up. He fought to recover and kept training to be ready for the season’s kick off.

“All the athletes are in constant risk of getting injured. Others would have given up by now. It was very tough for him, but he was able to overcome those obstacles with the help of his coaches,” his father Juan Escobar said.

For Escobar his parents have been an inspiration to him and have taught him to never give up. They have always helped him and supported him in everything he does.

“They are always working hard to provide us everything we need. I’ve learned not to give up thanks to them. I don’t know where I would be right now without them,” Escobar said.

His father was the one who introduced him to the world of soccer when Escobar was only four years old. “I was like four and I didn’t really like it because I didn’t understand it. I was more into cartoons. I started getting into soccer during middle school in seventh grade,” Escobar said.

Escobar played initially as a defender but asthma forced him to abandon the game when he was 14 years old.

“I was playing defense, I was fast. I wasn’t really good at it, but I didn’t give up. I got asthma along the way and I had to stop playing. It was hard because I loved playing soccer. I begged my parents to let me play,” Escobar said.

He knew that the only way of going back to the field was by playing in a position where he didn’t have to run a lot

“The only way I was able to play again was playing as a goalie. So, I decided to play goalkeeper. I started to watch videos of Guillermo Ochoa, Oswaldo Sanchez, Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon. I learned by watching them,” Escobar said.

Escobar, better known as chango (monkey) by his friends is described by teammate and friend Christian Ventura as a dedicated and hardworking person who likes to improve.

“He always takes things seriously and is always working to get better. He works in practice and out of it. His motivation and passion for the game inspire me,” Ventura said.

Escobar attended South East High School from 2008-2011 and played soccer for the varsity team during his last three years in high school. He was coached by ELAC Assistant Coach Felipe Bernal.

“He has come a long way being an asthmatic kid. I never second doubted him. He did great things in high school. His work was incredible,” Bernal said. In the 2010-2011 season the Jaguars won the CIF Los Angeles City Section Championship.

Escobar played a crucial role during the city finals, making two saves during the penalty-kick shootout and gave the Jaguars the title after defeating Banning High School 4-3 on penalties.

“I remember the CIF final. The saves he made brought tears to my eyes. I went to him and told him ‘I knew you were going to do this for the school and for you,’” Bernal said.

Once at ELAC, his first season in the soccer team was a challenge, but he faced it willing to earn a spot on the starting lineup.

“I was really motivated to be a leader on the team. I was challenged because it’s a whole different world in college. Is not like high school. The soccer level is very different,” Escobar said.

During the 2011 season, the Huskies made it to the first round of playoffs and Escobar was a key player making vital saves throughout the season.

Escobar was criticized after the Huskies first round defeat against Long Beach City College. He and his parents had to endure the bad comments regarding his performance.

“People always remember the bad moments and mistakes of goalkeepers. I always tell him that whenever he makes a mistake he has to keep his face up and keep going,” his father Juan Escobar said.

Nevertheless, Escobar finished the regular season strong with 1800 minutes played, a total of 21 goals against and 121 saves.

He was also named in the 2011 South Coast Conference All Conference First Team along with former teammates Galo Moreno and Kevin Gomez.

His last season playing for ELAC is not over, but Escobar admits that he will always remember his time here.

“I will never forget the adrenaline when you step on the field and play soccer and all the good laughs I’ve had with my friends both in and out of class,” Escobar said.

Though he is not sure of whether he will be playing soccer in a couple of years, he sees himself coaching.

One of his dreams is to open an academy for young goalkeepers to give them the opportunity to grow and develop their talents. He wants to help them like his coaches have helped him.

The possibility of becoming a professional soccer player is something that he considers from time to time, but he prefers to focus on the present.

He will keep training and working hard, giving it all on the field to achieve his goals. “Life only gets easier when you achieve your goals and that’s when you have to push your limit to go beyond that, to become more than what you want to be.”

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