"Many more Salvadorans could play in the MLS": Darwin Cerén
As the idol of Salvadoran football and star of San José Earthquakes, Darwin Cerén believes that there is more room for more of his in the United States. The first one that comes to mind is his brother Óscar.
At the age of 17, all signs pointed towards Darwin Cerén following in his father’s footsteps as a star footballer. No one doubted that he was a good player, but at that time he worked in quality control for a company that manufactured concrete blocks. The same was the case with Cerén’s father, Don Elías years ago: he had the ability to become a professional footballer himself, but he needed to work, so he unfortunately had to give up his dream. What a shame, as those who knew him acknowledged that he was a phenomenal attacking midfielder.
“Kaká has always been one of my favorite players since playing in Milan.”
But it was more the desire to achieve the dream of a child and the encouragement of his own father that motivated Cerén more than the immediate need to do something to survive. At 19, the days of Darwin working simple labor were over and he was already debuting with Juventud Independiente, then a team in the second division of El Salvador’s football league. A couple of years later and with a pair of titles in hand, the club was playing in the first division and Darwin was the star and axis of the midfield. It was only a matter of time before the outside world noticed him. Soon after, he received a call from Orlando City, who at the time played in the USL, the second division of American football. It was not exactly the MLS, but certainly represented a giant leap.
|Those who knew him recognized that his father didn’t do anything wrong with the media.|
Darwin did not have to second guess his decision, mainly for two reasons: First, Orlando already had a spot in the MLS booked for the following season and, having signed a contract for two years, Darwin was assured to play in the big American league. The second reason was a matter of personal taste: he would have the opportunity to play alongside a living football legend, his idol, the Brazilian Kaká. "I already knew I was on the team, but that was one more motivating factor because I've always seen him as an idol. He has always been one of my favorite players since he played in Milan, and having him as a teammate caught my attention." Admirations aside, once again life forced Darwin to start in the second division to get to the top.
But let’s step back for a moment. Darwin was not even ten years old before he started bouncing around from youth tournament to harder youth tournament with his younger brother, Óscar–now also a professional footballer. They won some, lost others, but they were together, always encouraged by their father Elías, who did not lose hope that one of his sons, and maybe even both, could fulfill the goals that he could not.
Darwin recalls how in a match, his brother twisted his knee after being tackled and, as if nothing happened, asked for a teammate to help straighten the knee out and continued to play. Not as strong as Óscar, Darwin says that when he was eight years old, he was hit with a shot so hard that he had the wind knocked out of him. Amid tears, he left the field saying that he no longer wanted to be a footballer.
“I would love for my brother to come and play here. I would be ecstatic, and so would he. He has the skills and abilities to play over here. I hope his opportunity comes soon.”
The story is no more than a mere anecdote, because today Darwin is one of the 2.5 million Salvadorans living in the United States, 300,000 of whom live in the San Francisco Bay area, which is very close to San José, where Cerén plays with the Earthquakes. There is a saying in the U.S. among his fellow countrymen: ‘If you want to find a Salvadoran who stands out in this country, Darwin’s your man.’
After just one season in the MLS, Cerén did so well that he was chosen as Orlando City’s best player during the season, even above the former Real Madrid star and Cerén’s idol, Kaká. Darwin tries to detract from the recognition and says that his teammates elected the winner and, since he’s a gentleman, Kaká surely voted for him. Kaká’s humility isn’t the only quality that Cerén recognizes the Brazilian for, as he admires Kaká’s vision of the game, his class to provide good passes to his teammates and the ability to make his teammates better just from the advice he gives them.
But just when everything seemed to be going well and Darwin was ready to play his third season with Orlando City, he was inexplicably transferred to San Jose for reasons that are still unclear today. It meant a change of lifestyle for the player, who had already settled in Florida and had just been visited by his parents, who were ready to stay a couple of months with him. He had to take them back to El Salvador and move to California. He never expected to be so well received there. He says that in San Jose they were waiting for him, and that from day one they made him feel at home. That’s just the way it is for Darwin Cerén. His every move is celebrated by fans at Avaya Stadium, home of the Earthquakes, a welcoming structure for 18,000 people, who sacrificed one of their grandstands to build the country's largest outdoor bar. Thus, each home game is a party where everyone is invited.
It is not unreasonable to say that Cerén changed scenery, but he hasn’t needed to changed his life. In San Jose, he has virtually his entire family with him. He lives there with his wife Delia. They have three children: Jonathan, 11; Darlyn, 5; and little Alaia, who’s only seven months old.
Together, they have a life in California that includes early mornings where the kids go to school while Darwin has training sessions, and afternoons when the kids do homework and eat ice cream, party weekends and summers playing in the pool. Life smiles at the Cerén family. The only thing that could make it better, according to Darwin, is if his brother Óscar (who currently plays for Alianza in El Salvador) came to San Jose to play with him. "I would love for him to come and play here. I would be ecstatic, and so would he. He has the skills and abilities to play over here. I hope his opportunity comes soon."
They’ve already spent their whole lives playing on the same fields, whether in youth competitions or on Juventud Independiente or on the national team, so doing it in San Jose for the Earthquakes would only feel natural.
As that moment arrives, Darwin, a central midfielder, hopes to find himself concentrating on El Salvador’s opposition on the field with Óscar, who plays hard to face the challenge of the Gold Cup, where they will not have it easy against Mexico, Jamaica and Curaçao, his country’s competition in Group C. And although El Salvador has high expectations for the tournament, he knows that nothing is guaranteed. He knows that he will not only get the support of all of his fellow Salvadorans who live in the U.S., but also from a rich family tradition of footballing greatness. Each one is good on its own, but with the support of both, they turn Cerén’s team into a force to be reckoned with.