Photo by Mark Honbo/UC Davis Athletics
By CAITLIN MURRAY
Ramon Martin del Campo seems built to be a premier center back. At around 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, he physically commands the area in front of goal. He has got the personality and voice to match — articulate and booming as he shouts orders and organizes the back line.
“That’s how I found him. I was at a big tournament in Las Vegas and I was watching one field, and I kept hearing Ramon on the field behind me,” said Dwayne Shaffer, Martin del Campo’s coach at the University of California Davis. “I was there trying to find a central defender for our program and I just kept hearing him communicate and lead his team.”
Martin del Campo went through his first three years at UC Davis as a solid player at a decent school. The San Jose Earthquakes spotted him his junior year and brought him in for their U-23 team in the amateur Premier Development League. But U.S. national team programs didn’t seem to notice.
He had never been contacted by anyone from U.S. Soccer, let alone called up to train. He dreamed of turning pro with no way of knowing how he would stack up against the country’s elite.
That is, until May when his U-23 Earthquakes squad was asked to scrimmage the U.S. Men’s National Team during their pre-World Cup camp at Stanford University.
“I saw it as a test for me to see where my level was,” Martin del Campo told SBI. “One day, I want to be playing in MLS and, of course, not stop there – I’ll keep going as far as I can. I said, ‘This is the perfect chance to test my ability and see where I’m at right now.’ ”
His task was not an easy one. He was marking players like Aron Johannsson, Chris Wondolowski and Julian Green — players he aspires to be like. The nerves kicked in, but not the paralyzing kind. They were what Martin del Campo calls “the Rocky Balboa kind of nerves.”
He felt sharp. He consistently won his head-to-head challenges. He left the scrimmage feeling comfortable having kept the USMNT to a 1-1 draw — he had tangible proof he could compete at the highest level.
“The first five minutes, I had to re-adjust because I knew it was going to be fast, but I just never knew how fast that would be,” he said of the speed of play. “I experienced it, so I got to see where my ability was. I know I can compete, but I want to overcome that level, I want to be higher than that. So it’s going back to my training sessions and being so strict on myself that when I am put in that situation again, it’s not Rocky Balboa nervous, it’s second nature.”
On the strength of his performance in front of the U.S. Soccer brass, he was called into a U-23 national team camp earlier this month to face the Bahamas senior team. Martin del Campo made his first appearance for the U.S., nabbing an assist as a second-half substitute.
“We try and go there and find guys who we haven’t identified yet — and that age group is a difficult one because, most of the guys we’ve already seen,” said Tab Ramos, U.S. Soccer’s youth technical director. “He was one of the out-of-the-box guys that we found and I thought, considering he had never been to a national team camp, he did pretty well. He’s solid, has good leadership skills, and he did well.”
But with a dream of becoming a professional soccer player, his senior year at UC Davis will be one of the key pieces in his portfolio as he goes job hunting with Major League Soccer clubs. More call-ups with the youth national team will help, to be sure, but on his college team, Martin del Campo will need to compete consistently, week in and week out.
He has developed a reputation as a workhorse and a strong leader in the program. This season, Martin del Campo will be captain along with teammate Brian Ford and he said he wants to bring the national team intensity to his college team.
“He’s a hard-working young man,” Shaffer said from Ohio, where the Aggies will kick off their season today. “He takes care of his body the right way, he watches his diet, he does a bunch of individual training on his own, as well as everything we’ve asked of him at UC Davis. I’ve watched him have to defend the best strikers in the state of California in the Big West Conference and I’ve watch him shut most of them down pretty consistently.”
UC Davis tends to get overshadowed by bigger name schools around California, a state that seems to have a penchant for producing soccer talent. But the program has found success, too. Chicago Fire’s Quincy Amarikwa is a product of UC Davis and now shares the lead in goals for his MLS club this season.
Martin del Campo is doing well at UC Davis, too. He was named to the Big West preseason all-conference team. In his sophomore year, the Aggies won their conference division. Building upon his development there, he made the Premier Development League’s 11-man all-league team this year and made the shortlist for their young player of the year.
UC Davis has never won a conference title and opens the season unranked, but has three matchups against ranked Big West teams on the schedule. For Martin del Campo, who was born in Mexico but raised in Chula Vista, Calif., individual awards may be nice, but he has only one goal: win a title before he finishes.
“It’s my senior year and I’ve got to do the best in this program because they’ve invested so much in me,” Martin del Campo said. “I feel the need to give silverware back to them. When that’s done, I’m a man of faith and God opens the next door and then it’s time to focus on that one.”
It’s hard not think ahead a bit, though. Because he had not gone through the Earthquakes academy system before starting his college career, San Jose can’t sign Martin del Campo as a Homegrown Player. Instead, he’d have to roll the dice in the MLS SuperDraft.
For all the college players looking to break into MLS, the odds are tough — about one of every 50 NCAA seniors go pro. But with the year Martin del Campo has had, MLS is well in reach.
He has now gone from relative unknown to a player firmly entrenched on the draft boards of teams throughout MLS. After seeing him at the U-23 camp, Ramos said Martin del Campo should do well in MLS. But whether he gets there after his senior year or not, he won’t stop.
“I want to see my chances at the MLS. I want to see my chances going through the draft,” Martin del Campo said. “If someday that can happen, that’d be amazing. If it doesn’t happen, no worries — I’m not going to give up on my dream of becoming a professional. I have this saying, ‘Be the dreamer.’ Why put a limit on my dream? Why not chase it to the fullest and see if I can reach it?”