As a soccer-cleated kid growing up in the San Fernando Valley, Daniel Steres idolized Cobi Jones, the Los Angeles Galaxy’s dreadlocked captain who played for the club from 1996 to 2007.
Steres had visions of one day following in his hero’s footsteps and slipping on the home whites of his local team — a uniform that’s been worn by the likes of Major League Soccer (MLS) stars David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Giovani dos Santos.
On March 6, 2016, after several years in the United Soccer League, a second-tier professional league, there was no more dreaming. It was real.
Steres made his debut as a central defender in the Galaxy’s season opener against D.C. United at the StubHub Center in Carson. Under those bright lights, the dream quickly descended into a nightmare.
“I started off letting in a goal in the first 10 minutes, which is never good,” Steres said. “That first game was a big welcome-to-the-league moment, you might say.”
The former Calabasas High School and San Diego State University standout quickly recovered, netting the Galaxy’s first goal of the night en route to a 3-1 victory. That performance helped solidify the 6-foot, 175-pound Steres’ place on the Galaxy backline, where he started 29 times in 31 appearances for the team.
The 27-year-old, one of a handful of Jewish players on MLS rosters, has played in 17 games this season as of Aug. 22 and is expected to be on the field for the Galaxy’s first Jewish Heritage Night on Aug. 27, when the team clashes with the visiting San Jose Earthquakes at 4 p.m
“We have a large Jewish community here in Los Angeles and I’m proud to be able to be at the forefront of that, representing that,” said Steres, who became a bar mitzvah at Wilshire Boulevard Temple.
Steres took to soccer early, or as his grandmother Jo Seligman remembers, “He was good at anything involving a ball.”
He was a standout in the Jewish Community Center (JCC) Maccabi circuit, competing at tournaments around the country under coach Kobi Goren, who worked with Steres during his teen years. Goren has been coaching local JCC Maccabi teams for 25 years, and despite seeing hundreds of youth players come and go, Steres has a special place in his memory.
“He’s one of the top players who ever played for me, on and off the field. I want to stress that,” Goren said in a syrupy-thick Israeli accent. “He’s a brain, not just a soccer player. Making good decisions under pressure for him is easy, so his success doesn’t surprise me at all. He’s humble and has beautiful character. He’s very special for me.”
Chris Glidden, communications mana-ger for the Galaxy, said Steres has been a model professional, representing his community admirably.
“The Galaxy are very proud to have a diverse group of players from various backgrounds, ethnicities and religions,” Glidden said. “Daniel has been an excellent member of our team who has represented this club, himself, his family and his faith incredibly well during his time here.”
Even when it’s not Jewish Heritage Night, Steres always has an armada of friends and family cheering him on at home games. His parents, Mark and Suzie, his younger brother, Andrew, aunts and uncles, a pair of Jewish grandmothers, and childhood friends and former teammates make it a point to caravan to Carson from many parts of the San Fernando Valley, where most of the family still lives.
“It’s really special that I still have such a big family here and that I get to keep playing soccer as a career in their backyard,” Steres said. “This is definitely a dream I had growing up. I didn’t know if it would happen, but it’s pretty cool that it did.”
Mark Steres said sometimes it’s still hard to believe that he has a professional athlete for a son — particularly one who plays so close to home.
“For most parents, their kids’ sports careers end at high school, so we’re just having a lot of fun with this,” he said. “College was a bonus and him going pro is just over the top. The amazing thing is he could’ve ended up playing anywhere and he’s right here in his hometown.”
“It’s surreal seeing him out there and, sure, he’s a good player,” Seligman said. “But he’s not your typical flashy athlete who shows off and mouths off and all that. He’s a gentleman and, from my perspective as a Jewish grandmother, a role model for the Jewish community.”
Steres, who now lives in Long Beach, said he occasionally pops in for services at Temple Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, where Seligman and much of his family are members. When he goes, he jokes that he “stays in the back,” just like he does on the field.
It will be hard to avoid attention during the game against San Jose, however, where he will be a major attraction and remain on the field after the game to interact with Jewish fans.
“I know the Galaxy are welcoming as many fans for it as they can,” he said. “I think it’s something really cool that they’re putting on and I’m proud to be a part of it.”