There have been some soccer players over the decades that were either born in, developed in, or played in Santa Ana that went on to win championships on a national level. There is also the case of the Santa Ana College Dons, that as a unit was an overachiever first under coach J.P. Frutos, then coached by former Chivas de Guadalajara, Atlas, Celaya, L.A. Salsa, Orange County Zodiac and L.A. Galaxy player José Vásquez.
Santa Ana in the Los Angeles Aztecs
We’ll begin with José López, who was born in Mexicali in 1951 but grew up in Santa Ana and played soccer at Santa Ana Valley High School. He went on to captain UCLA soccer and was drafted to the inaugural Los Angeles Aztecs squad in 1974. López and the Aztecs won the North American Soccer League Championship that same year.
Reign of the Dons
The Santa Ana College Dons started dominating the Orange Empire Conference in 1976, winning the conference 26 times. The Dons dominated consecutively from 1976-78, and most impressively, consecutively, from 1994-2011. And the 80s? They owned that too: ’83, ’84, ’86, ’87, and ’88. The Dons became a force at the state level in California, winning seven state championships, and two national championships within this time frame. So what’s the moral of the story, coupled with a word to the wise? There’s tremendous soccer potential in Santa Ana.
The Dons are still coached by LA Galaxy record holder José Vásquez, who is credited with one trophy, the 1998 Supporters’ Shield, with the Galaxy.
Mater Dei’s Robbie Rogers
Mater Dei High School, a private Catholic school, was established in Santa Ana in 1950. It has a reputation for having good American football teams, and has two national championships to its name in that sport, but one of its former players went on to win two MLS Championships in 2008 with the Columbus Crew and in 2014 with the LA Galaxy. That player is Robbie Rogers.
Now, Rogers and some others like him tend to say things like, “I went to school in Orange County,” and aren’t as specific by saying, “I went to school in Santa Ana,” (because the Santa Ana name is still taboo in some people’s heads) but we’ll forgive him and count him as a win for Santa Ana. Granted, Mater Dei isn’t part of the Santa Ana Unified School District and they don’t even compete with Santa Ana schools, but they have the luck of playing at Santa Ana Stadium and are lucky to call Santa Ana home.
Sueño: A Dream Forged in Santa Ana
A kid named Jorge Flores, who later changed his surname to Villafaña in honor of his mother, grew up playing soccer in a Santa Ana youth league, with the club Santa Ana Juventus DSP. This kid had a dream of playing pro soccer and tried his luck with the first-ever Sueño MLS tryout, which he went on to win, eventually earning a spot on the Chivas USA Academy then first team, before being moved to MLS’s Portland Timbers. Villafaña culminated his MLS career in 2015 with a championship and then moved on to broader horizons with Club Santos Laguna in Mexico, in a league he dreamed of playing in.
There are contenders to these made champions listed above. There was another Sueño MLS winner from Santa Ana named Armando Flores, now playing at Cal State Bakersfield.
Kevin Huezo played for the CF Pachuca Academy in Mexico and currently plays and fights for minutes at Murciélagos FC of the Ascenso MX division in Mexico.
Daniel Antúnez trotted the globe playing soccer before signing with MLS and Chivas USA. Antúnez suffered a knee injury that ended his MLS career before he got back to playing with club Arizona United of the United Soccer League. Here’s a rare interview with Antúnez, who played in Finland, Brazil and Mexico before coming back to the States.
Special mention goes to Minnesota United striker Christian Ramírez, who was born in Santa Ana and developed his game in the neighboring cities of Garden Grove and Irvine. Ramírez played college ball nearby before signing with Minnesota United of the North American Soccer League, where he won a 2014 Golden Boot, 2014 Player of the Year, and NASL Best XI in 2014 and 2015.