MEXICO CITY — Danny Trejo has always been a goal scorer. It’s just who he is.
“When I was little, when I was playing club, a lot of times I would score too many goals,” Trejo said. “People would be like ‘I need to see how old his real age is, to see if he’s actually playing his age or not,’ because I would score so many goals when I was there, but it was fun.”
That goalscoring ability saw him break records as a high schooler. It saw him forge a path via NISA to the American top-flight. It saw him drafted by, and appear for, the team most-recently named MLS champions.
Trejo’s story started in Morelia, around three hours west of the current training camp in Mexico City, where the striker was born.
“[I don’t remember] much,” Trejo said, “but I remember spending some time with my family, playing soccer with some of my friends.”
At just 6 years old, he moved to Central California. Trejo’s family already had ties to Fresno County, where they worked the farms.
“A lot of people there go to the fields and work, but also it’s a lot of people that work hard,” Trejo said. “I got to meet a lot of people that inspired me in that community.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, soccer was a family affair. His older brothers all grew up playing. What else could young Danny have done?
“Whenever they would go to a park and play with their friends, they were able to invite me,” Trejo said. “That was a cool part for me, growing up.”
“I tried to take a little bit from all of them,” Trejo added, saying that they were all good players in their own right.
They didn’t quite shine as brightly as he did, though. In high school, Danny set record after record. The pinnacle came in his senior year, as Trejo set the state record for career high school goals.
Despite the backing of his family, and despite his talent, advancing in the game wasn’t always the easiest for him in his youngest years.
“There wasn’t a lot of soccer in my community,” Trejo said. “It was, I believe, about 45 minutes for me to show up to a training session for a club.
“I was fortunate enough to have this guy named Alvaro who had a little, little team right there in my community. I participated in it and to be honest from there, it was more like working myself up and proving to myself and whoever was around that community that I belonged there, playing, and from there on I just continued to play no matter where it was, and try to prove myself.”
Prove himself he did. From high school, Trejo moved on to Cal State Northridge, where he picked up numerous accolades including Big West Offensive Player of the Year. He spent a summer training with Portland Timbers, before appearing for the LA Force in NISA.
After that, it was time for the MLS draft. He was selected 14th overall by LAFC.
“For me, it was a dream come true,” Trejo said. “That was my plan before I went to college. I wanted to finish my four years in high school, get an opportunity to go play D1 and my goal was always to move down south and play there and get drafted by an LA team.”
@officialDannyT I promise to slice defenders like a machete 🤝💛🖤 https://t.co/SfQaU3jogW
— Danny Trejo (@dtrejo_10) January 22, 2021
LAFC was a team befitting the name it carried. The star-power of names over Trejo’s two-year stint proved impressive without doubt for an MLS side.
“I’ve been lucky enough to train with a lot of good players throughout my career, but I would say the most I took from one guy would be Carlos Vela,” Trejo said. “Obviously, he’s also a Mexican player, and I would always ask questions of him and I got to get close to him.
“He’s a very nice person; very humble guy. Obviously, we all know the talent he has, but I think the most important thing I took from a lot of these guys is how good they are to the younger guys. Obviously, I walked in there with a lot of talent: Diego Rossi, Carlos Vela. A lot of big time players then came in there. I just tried to learn as much as I could from then and try to take it day-by-day, but that was fun.”
While training in Los Angeles week in, week out, he wasn’t featuring very frequently for them. At the time, Las Vegas Lights served as an affiliate to LAFC, with the senior side sending its prospects on the trip to Nevada every other week for home games. That meant, inevitably, playing in the circus that Cashman Field can often devolve into.
“That was the team I was to play for,” Trejo said. “As a professional, your goal is to show up and play and do your best. For me, I tried to make the most of it.”
Surely, there’s a relief in not needing to take pictures with a real-life llama before each match?
“For sure, for sure,” he said, laughing, before the list of gimmicks started coming out. The pitchside beds or pools. The water balloon fight at half-time. The helicopter dropping cash onto an eagerly-awaiting crowd below.
“They got everything there, man,” Trejo added.
Yet in spite of those distractions, Trejo excelled in Las Vegas. He scored 11 goals with six assists playing for Lights in 2022; enough to earn him a trio of appearances for LAFC and a spot on the bench for the MLS club’s opening playoff match. Two of those goals came against Rising.
“I like to run in behind,” Trejo said. “It worked against Phoenix, worked against other teams that I’ve played against. I’ve been successful getting the ball into space or turning, dribbling at players. Phoenix was just a team that I would score every time I played against them.”
Now, he’ll be looking to score goals for Rising, rather than against them. After leaving LAFC after the end of last season, Trejo explored his options, including going on trial with DC United.
“It was a little bit of a thought process,” Trejo said. “Obviously my goal is to play in MLS, and I think I could play in MLS. That is the reason why it took me a while to make a decision. I was talking to some MLS teams, talking to a lot of USL teams. During that process, I was trying to make it make sense to me, where I think will be the next step that will help me get to my ultimate goal.
“Having a conversation with Juan [Guerra] allowed me to, in a way, see what was coming. I think Juan has shown in the past years, and also in the way that he spoke to me, I believed in what he said and it brought me to Phoenix.”
After seeing out the week with his new squad in Mexico City, Trejo will get his first taste of the Rising fans’ backing in a friendly against GCU. A month later, he’ll see the side move into its new home in Phoenix.
“We’re going to need [the fans] every game, especially every home game,” the forward said. “Now that the stadium is closer to the center, I think it’d be great to have as many fans as we can. We know how important it is, and we’re going to need them every game to get to our ultimate goal.”
For those fans, too, perhaps there’s something to look forward to?
“I think we have a lot of good talent, a lot of individual talent as well,” Trejo said. “We’re just trying to bring it all together and obviously your main goal is to win and win everything we can.”
Follow Owain Evans and PHNX Rising on Twitter for updates from Rising’s Mexico City training camp throughout the week.