Heading into his senior year at Lowell High School, Eric Pearce entertained the idea that it could possibly be his last go-around on the soccer pitch.
“I was looking at a couple small schools in Division II or Division III to see if I could play there, but I wasn’t really getting much traction,” the promising defender said. “In reality I was thinking of putting that all aside if I could get into UCLA to major in music.”
Pearce, an All-State clarinet player for the past four years, also starred as a right back both for the Cardinals and the San Francisco Glens’ youth club, but when he gained admission to UCLA’s music program after a lengthy interview and audition process, it looked like his time as a soccer player was coming to an end.
After a whirlwind eight months that included Examiner All-City Second Team honors with Lowell and an impressive run with the Glens at the club level, though, Pearce attracted the UCLA coaches’ attention. This fall, he’ll suit up for the Bruins.
“If you told me I’d be here last year, I’d say you were crazy,” he said. “I’m just thankful to coach [Juan] Lopez, everyone at Lowell and the Glens to be in this position,” he said. “It just shows that you have to keep fighting until it’s over.”
At the club level, when the Glens’ players complete their time in the youth pyramid, they have a first team in the USL League Two, or to their second or third teams in the local amateur SFSFL. Pearce starred for the Glens’ Under-19 team for coaches Danny Kirkland, Benkay Kajihara and Sebastiano Tevarotto, who spoke highly of him with the adult club’s coaching staffs.
“One of the most important traits that separates Eric from most of his peers is his very deliberate, incessant focus on constant improvement,” said Glens second-team coach Bill Chu. “He’s as competitive as anyone, but one can tell that his chief aim is to outperform the Eric who laced up his boots at the start of practice. Mentally, he’s top-class.”
Between appearances for the second team, Pearce was called up to the first team in April for a preseason game against the San Jose Earthquakes’ Under-19s. He made a quick first impression, sprinting deep from the back line to head in a cross over multiple defenders for a goal in the Glens’ 4-1 win.
Head coach Javier Ayala-Hil saw enough to sign Pearce to a first-team contract, but despite his constant improvement, the high school senior was contemplating life after soccer.
Enter Glens technical director Jimmy Conrad, one of the most accomplished players in Major League Soccer history. Long before he won the MLS Cup or served as captain for the U.S. Men’s National team, he was an overlooked walk-on at UCLA.
“I’d been emailing the UCLA staff out of just pure hope,” Pearce said. “Later I found out the assistant coach called Jimmy because of his connection to the program and asked about me. From there, I was constantly talking with Jimmy about the best way to get on the team and how to get them to notice me, and here we are.”
Pearce gained inspiration from Conrad’s stories about his journey to the professional ranks — how, despite being the captain of a national championship team at UCLA, he wasn’t drafted and was rejected by multiple teams before finding his way to the San Jose Earthquakes and eventual stardom.
“I needed some help to get a chance as a walk-on when I went to UCLA, so this was my opportunity to pay it forward,” Conrad said. “I’m sure Eric will do the same when it’s his turn to help, but it’s up to him to seize the day, as they say. Carpe diem! I wish him well.”
Balancing a music major and Pac-12 soccer as a freshman will be a sizable challenge, but one the Richmond District native is game to tackle.
“When I first joined the Glens, I heard their coaches had connections to help players get exposure for the next level, and it’s proven to be true,” Pearce said. “Now it’s up to me. I have to approach my freshman year like I did the USL League Two, where I got my chance and proved myself. Now I have to do it again.”
Glens goalkeeper Joe May signs with Goucher College
Pearce won’t be the only former Glens youth player preparing for his first season of college soccer. Goalkeeper Joe May, his teammate on the Under-19 team, has signed with Division III Goucher College in Maryland. After attending Lowell with Pearce for three years, May finished his high school ball at Orinda Academy.
“I’m excited to be playing at the next level and to have this opportunity at Goucher,” May said. “Playing for the Glens, I’ve learned a lot of lessons on the field and off of it, especially about leadership and consistency. I’ve really grown as a player and I’m taking those qualities with me to college.”