Monterey Bay F.C. midfielder Adrian Rebollar is playing his first season as a professional in the confines of his hometown, a unique opportunity that very few athletes can say they’ve experienced. For the Watsonville, California native, playing professional soccer was always the goal, a dream that he was determined to reach by any means necessary, even if that meant leaving home. In the end, even though it is just the beginning, Rebollar is getting the best of both worlds.
“It all started in kindergarten when I got a flyer from my teacher that said there were tryouts for a recreation league in Watsonville,” explained Rebollar. “I took it to my parents and told them I wanted to play and they said, ‘maybe next year,’ because my mom was around soccer so much in her family already, she wanted me to play something else. Then when first grade came around and we got the same flyer, I went back to my mom with the $40 that I had saved from my birthday to cover the registration fee, but again she said, ‘maybe next year.’”
A little while later, Rebollar and his family visited a park behind their house. There was a youth soccer practice happening on the grass, and Rebollar wanted to join in. With his parents’ permission, the coach agreed to let him participate. Right away, he was running around, chasing the ball and having the time of his life. That’s when Rebollar says it all came together.
“My parents, along with my sister, are my biggest supporters. They have sacrificed so much time out of their days to come with me to my games and tournaments and stuff,” Rebollar said. “My parents worked in the agricultural fields when I was younger. They worked so hard for my sister and I to be able to do what we wanted to do. For me, that was playing soccer.”
“I just remember that if I had a tournament coming up, my dad would work extra in the evenings to make up for the time he was going to miss to come and watch me or drive me where I needed to be,” he continued. “That’s what translates so much to my game on the pitch. I just try to work as hard as I can out there because I’ve seen my parents do everything they can for me to be able to play this game. Every time I play, I am thinking about my parents and my family.”
Since that day in the park, Rebollar has wanted to be a professional soccer player. In fact, he remembers answering that question as early as six years old. From his earliest memories through to high school and college, professional soccer was constantly on Rebollar’s mind. But it wasn’t until high school when he began to realize how much extra work he would need to do if he truly wanted to reach the professional level.
“I played club until I was 14 and then I played for the Santa Cruz Breakers academy until I went to college here at California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) in 2017. That’s also when I started to do a lot of extra work,” Rebollar explained. “During my spring semesters I would wake up at 5 a.m., hit the gym, go to training with the team, then in the evening I would do a little bit extra. That was when I really began maturing and doing what I needed to do to take the next step. Those five years at CSUMB is what really developed me and prepared me for the opportunity to play professionally.”
Being at CSUMB, a D2 school, Rebollar felt like an underdog. He knew the naysayers would say he needed to be at the D1 level to have a chance, he had heard it all. But that’s what he liked about his time at CSUMB, the opportunity both individually and as a team to prove everyone wrong. Before his junior season, one of his teammates, Julio Varela, signed a professional contract in the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL).
A year later, another of his teammates, Walmer Martinez, a current teammate here at Monterey Bay Football Club, signed a professional contract with USL Championship side Hartford Athletic in Connecticut. Seeing his teammates go professional before him only added to his motivation.
“I would even say there was some competition,” he said. “They are really good friends of mine, so of course I wanted to prove to them that I could make it professionally as well. But really, I wanted to prove to myself that all of the years and the extra work that I had done would pay off.”
Ahead of his last season at CSUMB in the fall of 2021, USL Championship announced that a professional soccer team was coming to the Monterey Peninsula. With the potential promise of tryouts for Monterey Bay F.C. on the horizon, Rebollar knew that he needed to show something during the collegiate season if he wanted to make a name for himself, so he focused strictly on training and hitting the gym
“My coach Graeme Jaap was in contact with Head Coach Frank Yallop, and they mentioned my name here and there. I even came in a couple of times to introduce myself and have some conversations with him,” said Rebollar. “I remember someone telling me not to put all of my eggs in one basket, but in my head, I just knew that I was going to play here, because I knew that I was going to do everything that I could to play here.”
Part of that meant more intense training sessions. In fact, Rebollar found a player from Major League Soccer (MLS) that was training out in Carmel, and he invited him out for some of his own training sessions in hopes of replicating the intensity of training with a professional team – he wanted to be as ready as possible for his chance with Monterey Bay. The initial plan was for Rebollar to participate in tryouts, and then if he did well enough, he would get invited to preseason. But to his surprise in December, he was told that he would be skipping straight to a preseason invite.
“I love thinking back on this past preseason because I would show up every day and to be honest, I would be nervous, a bit scared even,” Rebollar described. “I knew that on any given day I could show up and the coaching staff could thank me for coming and send me on my way. And I knew that if that happened, I didn’t have anywhere else to go, so I showed up every day and gave it 100%.”
He continued, “I would get a nervous feeling with each signing. I kept a count as the roster filled up, I knew there were only a couple signings left to be made. At the end of the day, I was the last one to sign. So, for myself, I have that chip on my shoulder now. From when I signed to when I was coming on as a sub to now starting, that’s always been in the back of my mind, that I can’t take this for granted. There are so many other players out there that wish they could be in my position, so the least that I can do is be the hardest working person on the field.”
So far this season, Rebollar has played in 19 matches for the club, having earned starts in 13 of those matches. In total, Rebollar has scored four goals, the second-highest mark on the team so far this season, and has 32 fouls won, 23 tackles, 20 interceptions, 11 chances created and one assist.
“I get emotional thinking about it, the moment that I signed my contract, because it is everything that I worked for and I hadn’t really taken a moment to reflect on it until now,” said Rebollar. “Apart from being around my family, that was probably the happiest that I’ve ever been in my life, sitting down with Frank in his office to sign the contract. I went outside to get a breath of fresh air. I was the happiest person in the world, and I still am.”
Rebollar continued, “I show up every day to practice and try to be the first person on the field, sometimes even the last to leave. Even if it’s not so much as training, sometimes it’s just me sitting there and enjoying it. I know this isn’t going to last forever. It’s my first year, but I know how time flies, so I want to enjoy it and just give it everything I have. I want to get the most I can out of it.”
Playing in front of family and friends at Cardinale Stadium in Seaside has been a dream for Rebollar, one that not many people can say they’ve lived out. The 22-year-old midfielder is not only playing in front of family and friends in the community he grew up in, but he is doing it in his first season.
“I have met a lot of new people here from the community that I didn’t know before from Marina, Salinas, Watsonville and really just all over. They come out to watch us, and then they come up to me after the game and tell me that they are proud to see me representing the community, the 831, and it makes me really happy,” described Rebollar. “It gives me an extra push during the game when I hear the fans cheering. I just know that they have our back, that they have my back, and it means the world to me. Cardinale Stadium, for all of us, it really feels like home.”