This quiet kid with the infectious smile from El Salvador showed up with more ambition than pedigree. Almost unheard of outside San Salvador, Ronald Cerritos came to the Clash in 1997 on loan from a small club, ADET.
No wonder long-time Spanish-language voice of the Quakes Carlos Cesar Rivera, who like Cerritos came here from El Salvador, was surprised the kid was an MLS All-Star in his first year.
“He didn’t have a name in El Salvadoran football,” Rivera said. “He was really unknown.”
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Not for long. Cerritos scored 12 goals in 22 MLS games in his rookie year, including a goal in his debut against Los Angeles. It was a header from an Eddie Lewis cross.
“He was a little guy, but scored a lot in the box and a lot of header goals,” Rivera said.
He scored a lot of goals, period. Sixty-one of them in 148 games, and throw in 47 assists. He once had a goal or an assist in a league-record 11 straight games.
Not bad for a kid who wasn’t really a striker.
“He was brought in to play on the right side of the midfield,” said Earthquakes General Manager John Doyle, a former teammate of Cerritos.
“He made deceptive runs – he was not the fastest player, but he was quick and he
was deceptive,” Doyle said. “And he found ways to get the ball into the back of the net.”
In his first go-around in San Jose, five seasons, from 1997 to 2001, Cerritos led the team in goal scoring for every year he was fully healthy, including 15 goals in 1999.
He came to San Jose at a time when the club was not winning much, Doyle says, “so it was nice to see him help us win the title in 2001.”
Cerritos wasn’t always too sure of himself in his early days. He was shy. He wasn’t confident speaking in English; he didn’t have the resume of either of his celebrated countrymen in the league, Mauricio Cienfuegos or Raul Diaz Arce. Though there is a large Salvadoran community in the Bay Area – estimated at 200,000 – Cerritos wasn’t comfortable selling himself or the game in public, even to his compatriots.
And that may be a reason why he flew under the radar during a lot of his years in Major League Soccer. But wherever he was flying and whatever radar he was on, Ronald Cerritos scored goals.
“He had good instincts,” Doyle said. “He was good physically. His impact on this team was big.”
Cerritos returned for the 2005 season, but there were so many options on a team that would end the season with the best record in the league. Despite a smaller role, he still had six goals and nine assists.
“If you had a Clash-Quakes Dream Team,” says Rivera. “Ronald would certainly be on it, with Landon (Donovan), Doyle, Bravo and others.” Rivera says he thinks Cerritos is the best Latin American player the team has ever had.
Doyle is happy the club is recognizing Cerritos. And what’s more, Doyle has a little extra reason to like the club’s all-time leading scorer. When Doyle was the assistant for Dominic Kinnear in 2005, the head coach was sick one night in New York, and couldn’t make the game. “Ronald scored the goal in a 1-0 win,” he said. “I’m undefeated as a head coach thanks s to Ronald.”
That would bring a smile to the kid’s face.