Poly High senior David Estrada looks back at the 1997-98 soccer season with a mixture of pleasure and pain.
His leadership and playmaking allowed the Parrots to lay temporary claim to the Valley Pac-8 Conference title, making Estrada The Times' regional boys' player of the year.
But when Poly administrators discovered an ineligible player the day before the Parrots were to play in the City Section semifinals, the team was disqualified from the playoffs and forfeited 10 victories, two ties and its conference title.
Estrada, the emotional and physical force behind Poly's ascent, finds its downfall almost too painful for discussion.
"I think about what could have been," said Estrada, a center midfielder who had five goals and 17 assists. "The team was a great bunch of guys. Everybody gave everything of themselves."
At the time of its disqualification, third-seeded Poly was the highest-seeded team left in the playoffs. Had the Parrots advanced to the final, they would have faced conference rival Reseda, a team they tied and defeated in the regular season. Reseda won the City title.
"We felt we were so close to getting our dream and then everything collapsed on us," Estrada said. "The fact that we didn't lose on the field, that's what hurts. But at least we know we were the best team in the City, even if it's not on paper."
Estrada, 17, a native of Guatemala, made the transition from forward to midfielder this season. Instead of carrying the scoring load, the 5-foot-7, 165-pound player was asked to create chances for others, a role in which he thrived.
"David is a magic passer," Reseda assistant Terry Davila said. "He knows where and when the ball should go and he hits people in stride. Poly had a great forward line that put tremendous pressure on you and David was the man behind that."
Following Estrada's lead, the Parrots also improved their image in 1997-98. Previously known as cheap-shot artists with hair-trigger tempers, they became tough but clean competitors by season's end.
"We felt good because we gave our soccer team a good reputation," Estrada said. "We didn't get any red cards this year. Last year any little thing, we'd retaliate with a kick or a swing. This year we said, 'Just walk away,' and it was impressive everyone did."