By: C. Harold Pierce
Dons forward Luis Venegas, then 18, slid across the field, battling for possession. He snagged the ball. When he turned around, another player was barreling toward him. As they collided, Venegas felt the snap. He was left on the ground grasping his knee. The injury set his soccer career back almost two years.
“As soon as I slid, I saw him come after me. He slide tackled me and broke my leg right down the middle,” Venegas said.
Eight years later, Venegas, 26, has become the state’s top college goal scorer, finding the back of the net 26 times while adding six assists for the Dons. About one in every three shots this season has been a goal for the father of two.
“If you put something around that box, he [Venegas] is going to finish it or hold onto it or make someone do something. We wouldn’t be here without [him],” Dons Head Coach Jose Vasquez said.
But it took Venegas years to get to this point.
Two years after his injury, Venegas tried out for a spot with Chivas USA, but was turned away.
“The guy told me, ‘you’re one of the best players here, but the program doesn’t want to spend money on you fixing all your paperwork,’” Venegas said.
Because he was brought to the U.S. at four years old, Venegas does not have a green card.
His dreams of playing professionally ended the afternoon he tried out for Chivas, but this fall, Venegas is making a comeback.
The freshman forward is playing soccer at Santa Ana College while pursuing a degree in criminal justice, despite the obstacle of finding employment in the field because of his status.
Venegas almost enrolled at Goldenwest College, but his high school friend and fellow forward Leonardo Contreras, 23, recruited him for SAC along with goalkeeper Luis Trujillo, 26.
“We were thinking … we have chemistry, we know each other, and we should try to be leaders on the team,” Contreras said.
Venegas and Contreras have scored a combined 37 goals – more than half of the team’s total for the season. Trujillo has made 70 saves this season, and allowed only two in the first 300 minutes of the playoffs.
On Nov. 30, the trio helped clinch a 2-1 victory over San Bernardino Valley College, placing them into the state’s final four.
But around midseason, Venegas contemplated quitting the squad.
During the day, he juggles classes, a part-time job working on yachts in Newport Harbor and spending time with his wife, 2-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son. At night, he trades off sleep for a full-time job waxing floors.
“My wife got really annoyed, and that was when I was going to quit,” Venegas said. “But I connected with the team, so I didn’t want to let them down … my kids love watching me play. I think about them and it keeps me motivated.”