Cameron Iwasa never thought he would be playing professional soccer. The Sacramento Republic FC forward thought he would simply play the sport at the University of California, Irvine while pursuing his degree in business economics, which he plans to obtain this summer.
But upon seeing some of his college teammates getting a chance to play professionally, he decided he wanted to do the same, the Yonsei told the Nichi Bei Weekly in a phone interview.
Iwasa, 26, started playing soccer when he was five years old. He also played baseball throughout his time at Jesuit High School in Carmichael, Calif., a suburb in Sacramento County. Iwasa also played basketball with the Buddhist Church of Florin. He had to choose to play either baseball or soccer in college, and chose soccer.
After his senior season at UC Irvine, his college coach connected him with an agent. This allowed him to receive invitations to draft combines. The Major League Soccer SuperDraft provides college players with the opportunity to be drafted by an MLS team in the United States or Canada. Iwasa was selected in the fourth and final round by the Montreal Impact in 2015.
Iwasa found out that he was drafted by Montreal in an unusual way. He told the Nichi Bei Weekly he wasn’t able to watch the draft, and was playing with some of his college teammates at the time. He said he came back to his phone to “about 100 text messages and countless missed calls.”
He flew out to Montreal from Southern California, where he trained for a week before get-ting cut. Next, Iwasa returned to Southern California to train with the LA Galaxy. After a couple of days, the San Jose Earthquakes called. He trained with them in Arizona and then in San Jose for a few weeks before getting cut. Then he returned to Sacramento, before signing with the Republic FC of the United Soccer League. Iwasa said the experience un-folded over approximately two months.
“It was a real whirlwind for me, but at the end of the day, I ended up back in my hometown getting to play in front of my family and friends and in hindsight, it’s really worked out well for me,” Iwasa said.
Iwasa would eventually elevate his game in Sacramento, but not without gaining some “self-awareness” during his rookie campaign. He credited his coach Preki Radosavljevic for having “laid out some ways I needed to improve and once I had that, I started to play more that season, started to play better,” Iwasa said.
Unfortunately for Iwasa, the team had a coaching change mid-season and he got injured, leading to less playing time. In the offseason, he started working on improving his game. Steve Petuskey, a retired professional soccer player, helped Iwasa in the offseason on the “details of finishing.” Iwasa has worked with Petuskey since his rookie offseason.
“When I came back for my second season in 2016, I felt like I was a completely different player than I was the year before,” Iwasa said.
In 2016, Iwasa had a breakout season with the Republic FC, netting a franchise record 12 goals and three assists, while helping lead the team to a first-place Western Conference finish, according to the Sacramento Republic FC Website.
Iwasa had played out his contract in 2016, freeing him up for his next team.
His record-setting year earned him a one-year contract with Sporting Kansas City. Unfortu-nately for Iwasa, the stint with the team didn’t pan out due to injuries, but he said, “It was still a fantastic learning experience.”
He returned to the Sacramento Republic FC in 2018, breaking his own record in leading the team with 17 goals.
“These past few seasons have been really successful for me and I credit that a lot to what I learned when I was in Kansas City,” he said.
The Sacramento native said, “There’s no better feeling” than to play in front of his family and friends. He said the Sacramento fan base is “constantly chanting and cheering, singing throughout the games.”
The Republic FC are set to become an MLS expansion team with a new stadium, Railyards Stadium, in 2022, according to the team’s Website. Iwasa couldn’t be happier.
“I’ll be ecstatic and I truly can’t wait to see what happens,” Iwasa said.
But the new stadium will have to wait, along with soccer games, due to the coronavirus. The USL season was postponed after Sacramento’s 1-1 draw on opening night March 7 against FC Tulsa.
Iwasa said that the team’s strength and conditioning coach has the team doing body weight, strength training workouts to stay in shape in quarantine, along with running.