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Steven Barrera: From Setback to Triumph

HOW STEVEN BARRERA TURNED AN INJURY INTO FINDING HIS PURPOSE






ACCESS U Alumni Spotlight | Cal State LA '18


Steven Barrera (Bellflower, CA) was one of ACCESS U Foundation’s first scholar-athletes (2011-2012).  He attended Cal State LA on an athletic scholarship and had an outstanding career as a goalkeeper for the men’s soccer team, receiving All-Conference and All-Region honors. Steven graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resources Management and Services.


Soccer is more than a sport in the Barrera family. It’s a family tradition passed down through generations. A medium through which Steven's parents taught him and his two siblings, both of whom also played in college, invaluable life lessons and created cherished family memories. The Barrera family lives and breathes soccer.


So it’s no surprise that when Steven was sidelined by a torn Achilles last year, he found a way to stay involved in the game. The injury became a “blessing in disguise” as he calls it, as it led him to discover a new passion and career: coaching young goalkeepers at LAFC Academy.


ACCESS U has witnessed Steven’s personal growth and proudly shares his inspiring journey of hard work and resilience, from making his college dreams come true to becoming a mentor to the sport’s next generation.


Read the full interview below.

 

FAMILY & CHILDHOOD


  • Tell us about your family (where are your parents from, what do they do for a living, siblings, etc.)


My family loves soccer, that's all we've ever liked, lived and breathed. My parents are from Mexico. My mom is from Guadalajara, Jalisco and my dad is from Leon, Guanajuato. Both came to the U.S. when they were young and met in high school. Currently, my mom is a teacher and my dad works for the County. 


I was born and raised in Southern California. I went to a private high school, St. John Bosco, and then I transferred to Millikan High School, a public high school in Long Beach. I only played one year of high school soccer.


I have a younger brother and sister. My sister is the middle child and graduated from Dominguez Hills about two years ago, and played soccer at a junior college for two years at Long Beach City College (unfortunately, she tore her knee a couple of times). My brother is the youngest at 24 and played soccer at Whittier College for a little bit. He transferred to Cal State Fullerton and graduated just this past year.


  • How old were you when you started playing soccer and what are your earliest memories playing the game?


I was about 3 years old when I started playing. My earliest memory would be when I scored my first goal and I ran to my dad (my Coach) who was waiting for me with open arms.  I jumped into his arms and he hugged me tightly.


  • When did you know you were good enough to play in college and could earn a scholarship?


I never knew exactly when I was “good enough” but I always knew I wanted to play in college. There are so many avenues you can take today in college that there is a spot for everyone to play as long as they find the right fit.


  • Did you have someone - a coach, a mentor, family or other - who encouraged and supported your soccer dreams?


I believe I had a ton of support behind me - my parents, past coaches - I feel as if many people were behind me to help. My biggest influence after college was a good friend of mine by the name of Jonathyn Lomeli, who also now happens to be the Academy coach for LA Galaxy.


  • What sacrifices did you or your family have to make, not only for you to play soccer growing up, but also to attend and play in college?


My parents have always been supportive. They ran around taking me and my siblings to our soccer events, sacrificing their weekends and free time. I had a scholarship that helped financially. My mom was a teacher and she would do her schoolwork in the car while we were at practice. My dad worked for the County. 


ACCESS U & APPLYING TO COLLEGES


  • How did ACCESS U Foundation help you identify colleges to apply to and guide you through the college application and recruiting processes?  


I had gone to Alianza de Futbol tryouts in 2011 and I also attended the next year, where by chance I met Joaquin Escoto (Co-Founder of ACCESS U). I really didn't know much about it until after I was enrolled. I thought ACCESS U was really cool in the sense of they were working to give opportunities for kids. I was a part of Alianza U* at the very beginning when they were just starting the foundation. Resources were not as vast but I served as an ambassador for them.


*Alianza U was later renamed ACCESS U Foundation.


  • Can you tell us about your recruiting process with Cal State LA?  (For example, how did you connect with the coaching staff, did you do a recruiting visit and what ultimately made you decide to play at Cal State LA?)


I played for Cypress FC -they're now called FC Premier- in the Premier Division for a couple of years and right after that, I ended up going to the LA Galaxy. But during high school, one coach invited me to come out to an event where they organized a group of players who were seniors to play in front of college coaches. One of the coaches was Cal State LA’s Chris Chamides. I thought I did well, I had a pretty good game and that's when he spoke to me after. But at that point, I had not committed anywhere yet. I stayed in contact with Chris. 


However, a month later, I ended up driving to University of Arizona Yuma for a college visit. I liked it and enjoyed it, I thought it would be the place for me. So I decided to commit and signed my letter to go to Arizona.


But the weeks after, part of me just didn't feel right. When I visited Yuma I loved it, but when I really looked into it, I was like: "Is this really what I want?". So I applied to and ended up getting into Cal State LA...and it was kind of history from there.


  • Why does the need for a program like ACCESS U exist?


When the program first started, it was catered more towards Hispanic players, which I believe used to be a major untapped market due to many migrants being undocumented. With that said, first generation Hispanic-Americans did not know about the various opportunities available to someone in their position, someone who may aspire to go to college but don’t have the money or means of transportation to go to school. ACCESS U provides a space where all that can be discovered with the help of the program.


CAL STATE LA


  • Tell us about your first year at Cal State LA.  Was it an easy transition to college for you, as a student and as an athlete?


Schoolwork was manageable, I was always on top of my work. I also was adjusting to my new routine. At first living at home made it difficult because I spent so much time on campus. So I moved on campus shortly after. Having never lived away from home, I had to learn how to cook and do my own laundry. I definitely grew up a lot.


I think it was probably one of the best decisions I could have made. I was away from my family, which was rough, but I'm grateful that I was not at home and able to create my own life without my parents. 


During college, you had a great career, with achievements listed below: 

What can you say was your magic formula?


  • 2014 NCAA Div. II West Region Champions

  • 2013 & 2018 California Collegiate Athletics Association (CCAA) Champions

  • 2018 NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player

  • Named to All-Conference and All-Region teams

  • During senior season, recorded 10 shutouts and made 85 saves, with a goals against average of 0.83 and a saves percentage of .817


There is no magic formula. To me it was all about consistency, hard work, and enjoying each challenge for what it was, a challenge. I constantly kept myself on a schedule. There were certain events, such as prom and homecoming and stuff of that sort, that I was not able to attend solely for the reason that I felt I was working for a bigger purpose. Ultimately, it paid off in the end for myself.


CAREER


  • After college, you experienced a period as a semi-professional player, competing in USL 2 with Ventura County Fusion and in NISA with Cal United Strikers FC. How did you get to each club and what did this represent for you in your career?


Of course I wanted to keep playing after school (I actually was playing indoor soccer). I was training every day at 6:00 am with a friend who also was a coach, and he told me that Cal United was looking for a goalie. 


After that, Ventura Fusion reached out through Instagram and invited me to play. I was there only for the summer and also coached at Ventura. Then Cal United offered me a contract and a coaching position for Irvine Strikers.



  • With Cal United Strikers FC for NISA's Inaugural Season, you earned the Player of the Week honors in your first match, as well as helped the team win the NISA West Coast Championship (2019). Looking back, how did it feel to be part of a new league and have a successful first season?


It was amazing to me. I thought of all my successes in the past that ultimately lead to me being in that position as a starter and having won yet another trophy. It never crossed my mind that I would be winning something more meaningful in my first year of playing outside of college.


  • How did you become a Coach of the LAFC Academy?


About a year ago, I tore my Achilles.  At that time, I was still really into playing (full-time), but also into coaching (part-time). I was coaching at El Camino College, and at a private high school, Loyola High School.


I was one of those guys that was like: “I'm gonna play until my legs fall off”. Once I tore my Achilles, I couldn't do anything. I literally sat on the couch for about four or five months because I was recovering from surgery.


But I still tried to continue coaching (at a certain point, I was in a scooter, just kind of directing). It was almost like a blessing in disguise. When my Achilles injury happened, I was approached about the job at LAFC. Initially, I worked for about a month or two for free, and then literally the first day that I was able to come back, I was hired on to the job there.


  • Three words to describe Steven.


Personable, charismatic and strong.


  • What do you currently do and what are your dreams?


I am currently a staff goalkeeper coach at LAFC and goalkeeper coach/assistant coach at El Camino College. My dream would be to become a goalkeeper coach at the professional levels and continue to grow as a coach to eventually pass on my knowledge to the next generations to come.


  • Now that you're a Coach and on the other side, on the bench, what is your greatest joy and motivation that you recognize has made everything worthwhile?


I think for me the greatest joy would be all the meaningful relationships I’ve created for myself along the way. The people that have inspired me and the people I’ve inspired has created a sense of community for me. 


ADVICE & LEGACY


  • Financial limitations have always been an obstacle for Latinx students, what would you tell students that might reconsider attending college because of financial hardships?


My advice for other kids: Look for scholarships, especially for the Latinx community. Have Junior College as an option. If you transfer to a South Bay school, El Camino College will cover the first two years at the JC (South Bay promise).


  • What advice would you give to your 14 year old self who is a freshman in high school?


I’d tell myself to not stop working, good things will come to you if you continue to work hard each day and every day.


  • What positive impact would you like to leave on your family and the Latino community?


I’d just hope that I can continue to inspire and help those around me. Not only to the Latinx community but to everyone that I have gotten to know through soccer and other sports.




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