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Soccer player credits Pacific for helping launch his pro career

Pacific alumnus and Stockton native Erik Centeno dreamed of becoming a professional soccer player since he was young. A talented defender and midfielder, Centeno now plays for the MLS team, Atlanta United FC, the 2019 winner of the U.S. Open Cup. Centeno lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where he focuses on training and hopes to compete in the World Cup one day.

“Playing away from my family and home, which is Stockton, has been a little difficult, but this has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid,” he said.

Centeno credits Pacific for being his springboard to a pro career. The university’s visibility as a West Coast Conference team provided a showcase for Centeno’s talents on the field. At Pacific, Centeno stood out as the only first-year player to start in all 16 games, recording six goals and five assists. Centeno’s achievements on the field earned him First Team All-West Coast Conference and WCC Freshman of the Year honors. It didn’t take long for the MLS to identify him for its Generation Adidas program and Atlanta United’s first-round draft pick.

Centeno’s journey to become a professional soccer player started at the Thursday night games at Pacific which he remembers attending with his family. Growing up in Stockton and going to Pacific’s soccer matches, Centeno always wanted to be a Tiger. One of his fondest childhood memories is walking on Pacific’s soccer field holding a player’s hand.

“I feel like the Pacific’s men soccer team has really helped young kids by inspiring them,” Centeno said. “I remember going to the games at Pacific when I was little, and it really inspired me to get to where I am today.”

As he got older, Centeno played for Sacramento Republic FC Academy, the FC Dallas Academy and U.S. Under-17 Men’s Youth National Team. His diligence and achievements caught the eye of Pacific’s coaches, and in 2021 he was offered a spot on the Tigers team. At the same time, he decided to pursue a degree in communication.

Centeno says Pacific’s coaches and advisers helped him balance academics and athletics.

“They really helped me become a better student and at the same time helped me manage my time better—especially coach Adam [Reeves] since he always kept me on track with my grades,” he said.

Centeno realizes he had a lot of help to achieve his dream, from the sacrifices his mother made to get him to soccer practices and the care and attention he received from Pacific coaches.

He believes it takes community to succeed as an athlete. He hopes aspiring soccer players will find just that in his hometown and his alma mater.

“I feel like the soccer community in Stockton has grown a lot since I was growing up,” Centeno said. “There are way more clubs involved with youth, and I hope that University of the Pacific can continue being the step up for young players growing up in Stockton.”


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