My Interview With Leone Cruz: Professional Soccer Player
The Ledger had the chance to speak with Texas’ own fútbaler, Leone Cruz.
Cruz is an SMU alum and was the Seattle Sounders second round draft pick in the 2011 MLS Super Draft. During his career at Southern Methodist, Cruz played in 67 games for the Mustangs, scoring nine goals and adding five assists. Cruz helped lead the Mustangs to a 16-2-2 record in 2010, earning them a trip to the NCAA tourney and an Elite Eight appearance.
The Ledger: Leone, thanks for taking the time to talk soccer with me. 12 days ago during SMU’s NCAA tournament run, the Mustangs lost to defending champs, Akron. In 2010, your team lost a similar match to North Carolina in penalty kicks.
As a senior on that team, describe your emotions after the loss as well as the mindset of what this years team is feeling.
Cruz: In last year’s quarter-final loss, it was much more different from any other loss during a season. Going into the game, we were confident. Our mind-set was to play “our game” and execute what we worked on in training. Throughout the course of the game, we suffered a couple of key injuries. That in itself made playing UNC in Chapel Hill much more difficult. However, we had younger players that stepped up and played great. At the end of the night it was a heartbreaker, but as a senior, I was very grateful to have had the run with the players and staff that we had.
The Ledger: SMU Soccer has a long-standing tradition of winning. What do you attribute as an integral piece of the puzzle in the success of the program?
Cruz: Well, winning is a habit. SMU coaches do their best to bring in players who find ways to win. Once an organization can place players who live up to the standards and philosophy of the program, then success will follow. I think the mentality, ”never giving up” and “doing whatever it takes to win”, are the most important pieces to the tradition of SMU Men’s Soccer.
The Ledger: How much input have you had this season mentoring the current roster in what to expect in the NCAA tournament, as well as taking their game to the professional level?
Cruz: Most of last year’s seniors are still a big part of the program this past season. I still visit and talk with most of the guys on a daily basis. One of the best aspects of the game is being able to give back. When the guys needed any advice or motivation, I helped however I could. SMU coaches teach seniors how to lead, and we felt that it was our responsibility to pass on the information that helped us find success on the field.
In regards to getting to the professional level, I believe some of the current seniors will have great careers. I emphasize having a great attitude and working hard to win a roster spot. As a rookie, you learn how competitive the league is and retaining a positive attitude can make all of the difference.
The Ledger: To a more personal side now. You were drafted by the Seattle Sounders FC in the second round of the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. The club decided to go in a different direction after the pre-season and released you.
Talk about the experience training with a top flight American team as the Sounders.
Cruz: Being drafted and having the opportunity to train with Seattle was a great experience. It is one of the best clubs in the league, and has a great staff that can teach a lot to players. Being a rookie in that environment allowed me to learn so much from the players who have been in the league for a while. To this day, I still apply training techniques and follow the advice of the experienced players. Although the club went in a different direction, I am still very grateful for the opportunity and experience that Sounders FC provided me with.
The Ledger: In high school, you were a four-year letterman at soccer in Round Rock, Texas. Since leaving Seattle, soccer correspondents have listed you as training with clubs in Mexico & Florida. It appears San Antonio and Austin will be launching professional soccer clubs this year.
Any thoughts of coming home to play?
Cruz: Yes, the journey has allowed me to move around quite a bit. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to finish up my economics degree at SMU over the summer and was able to maintain my workouts during that time. I am eager for the offseason to begin and the opportunities that lie ahead of me. Just as any player, I am motivated to challenge myself in different leagues regardless of location. To possible play for a team in Texas is an added bonus, because it allows for the support system to be more interactive.
The Ledger: Did you get a chance to see Rise and Shine: The Jay Demerit Story? Favorite soccer movie?
Cruz: I haven’t had the chance to see the Jay Demerit story, but I’ve researched his journey and have watched the trailer. I find myself inspired each time I watch the clip. As a player in the beginning of my career, I’m motivated through the stories of others and how they have reached their full potential. I don’t have a favorite soccer movie, but once I watch Rise and Shine, I’m sure it would definitely be something along the lines of Jay’s story.
The Ledger: EPL, La Liga, Serie A, or MLS?
Cruz: La Liga. I am a big fan of the Spanish fútbol philosophy. La Liga also hosts the greatest players and coaches. I also enjoy Serie A because I am a defender. There is a lot to learn from Italian defending, and that is why I enjoy watching it. Both leagues are top quality and each bring their own unique flare.
The Ledger: Last but not least Leone, a soccer player’s career is probably the hardest of all the sport paths to take. The journey makes it a cruel profession at times.
Is there one thing that you would have done different or done differently to this point of your futbol career?
Cruz: You are right. Pursuing a soccer career can be tough at times, but it has allowed me to push my limits and motivated me to work harder. These challenges not only pertain to soccer, but to every aspect of life. Every challenge that I have encountered has brought me to become the person I am today, and I am very thankful for that. So to answer your question; No, I wouldn’t change anything, because everyone has their own journey and it is a blessing to have had the opportunity to share it with the people who have supported me throughout the years.
Leone Cruz’s journey has taken him to many destinations, I was fortunate enough to catch him in-between stops. Whenever Cruz’s next chapter begins, rest assured, he is well equipped mentally & physically, to accept the challenge. Whether it is here in the states or abroad, The Ledger wishes Leone the best of luck and good fortunes with his new team.