Scoring goals for Elisama “Eli” Padilla is like riding a bike for most of us. It’s something he’s always done well, and has never forgotten how to do.
As a sophomore at Clayton Valley High School in Concord, Padilla set a school record with 28 goals during the 2010-11 season. He also scored the game-winning goal in the Eagles’ first-round North Coast Section playoff matches in back-to-back seasons.
“Those games were awesome,” he recalled. “So many fans, a lot on the line: You just had to block out the noise and focus.”
His focus has paid off with the Earthquakes Academy. He has led the team in scoring two of his three seasons, and currently leads the Under-18 Quakes with nine goals this season, after netting 13 in the previous campaign.
“I’ve grown a lot as a player over the last two years,” he said. “Playing at this level demands a lot from you.”
With a flare for the big finish, Padilla led Clayton Valley to the NCS semifinals as a freshman, scoring the go-ahead goal in a 3-1 victory over Newark Memorial in the first round. In his record-setting sophomore season, Padilla was a marked man from the coin toss and was still unstoppable.
In fact Padilla led the Eagles to a 17-3-5 record and another NCS berth. Against Mt. Eden in the first round, Padilla delivered. After a foul in the box in the 79th minute, he buried the penalty kick in the upper right corner for a 3-2 victory. A 1-0 win over Richmond followed, and the Eagles’ fine season finally ended with a loss against No. 2 seed Newark Memorial in the semifinals.
“We had a really good, deep team that season, so it took some of the pressure off of me,” he said. “That was a great group and they really made my job easier.”
From there, Padilla moved on to the Quakes Academy, leaving the comfort of playing with childhood friends to test his skills against some of the best players around.
“It was a tough decision,” he admitted. “High school ball was fun, and playing for school pride with your friends was great. I just felt that the Academy gave me a better opportunity to move forward with my soccer career.”
Padilla didn’t slow down in his first year with the U16 Academy team. He was the second-leading scorer in his inaugural season, scoring seven goals.
“I’ve always been someone who was looked to for scoring,” he said, “and I think that helped me become a better player, because when teams would double me, I would have to become more of a set-up guy.”
Padilla gives a lot of the credit to his coaches, Marquis White and Stephen Wondolowski. “When they took over, it really opened up the play on the field,” he said. “They trust in our skills and abilities, and I think it lets us play with more freedom. The addition of Chris Leitch was also a big step, too; we have great leadership with the Academy.”
That leadership and the cohesiveness of the program have produced great results.
“Most of us have been together for a few years now,” said Padilla. “We got split up because of the age groups last year, but now that we’re back together things are going great! We are all familiar with each other and our games, so it really helps with what we’re trying to accomplish.”
This U18 team has hit the holiday break atop the Northwest Division with seven wins and a goal-differential of nearly 2-to-1.
“We got out to a hot start,” he said. “We’re playing with a lot of confidence. Our coaches have really let us play our game, and we’re having a good year so far.”
Padilla’s knack for scoring has made him a mainstay on opposing coaches’ game-plans. Plus, his versatility and unselfishness have made him a cornerstone for the Quakes Academy, a place that Padilla feels very comfortable. His confidence has never been higher.
“After high school, I want to play in college,” he said, “But really, I’d love to play for the Earthquakes.”