In all the hoopla surrounding the Seattle Sounders offseason moves, there has been one player that seems to have flown under the radar more than any other: Servando Carrasco. During the midfielder's rookie season, he became better known for the person he was dating than anything he did on the field. But that's probably unfair, and something that could very well change this year.
While it wasn't a perfect season -- Carrasco's most memorable moment was probably a tackle on Chicago Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko that earned him a retroactive red card -- the Sounders did go 4-1-2 during the seven games he started. He showed himself to be a hard-nosed player that was capable of some nice, long passes, but also tended to butt up against the line of aggressive and out of control.
With central midfielder looking to be one of the Sounders' most shallow positions -- only Brad Evans and Osvaldo Alonso have played there extensively -- Carrasco is poised to see even more of a featured role this year. His biggest area for improvement was probably the speed with which he makes decisions. He also tended to drift into the similar space as Alonso, which left the Sounders open to counter-attacks. Still, Sounders coach Sigi Schmid seems to think he can be a useful player, even if his skill set can seem redundant when he's paired with Alonso.
"He’s somebody who’s a little more comfortable playing deeper," Schmid said. "I know he’ll say ‘hey I can do the other role as well’ but one of his big strengths is his ability to open the game up. He’s a good striker of a long ball. He has that vision to find the wingers on the far side of the field. When he’s in that deeper position that allows that strength to show through a little more."
Having something to prove seems to suit Carrasco just fine.
"You just have to come out here and fight everyday," Carrasco said. "Nothing is for granted. You have guys coming in here who are in their rookie season who are hungry to play. You have to be prepared to compete with those kind of players and you have to use that to improve."
Carrasco's MLS career has so far been one in which he's been largely overlooked. It started when he was a second-round pick of the Sounders. In fact, he was the Sounders' third second-round pick of the 2011 SuperDraft. He was also the third players to be selected off his college team in that draft, as UC Berkeley teammates A.J. Soares (No. 6 overall) and Demitrius Omphroy (No. 26) were picked ahead of him.
Despite being picked relatively late (No. 27 overall), Carrasco managed to impress Sounders coaches once he was in camp. He was the only Sounders rookie to see playing time last season -- earning his first start in the second game of the year -- and his 689 minutes were more than any rookie in Sounders history other than Steve Zakuani. In all of MLS, just 11 rookies played more minutes than Carrasco last year, with Joao Plata being the only one of those who was picked later in the draft.
In an effort to build on that, Carrasco said he spent much of the offseason diligently following the workout plan team trainer Dave Tenney gave him. It focused mainly on speed work, consisted of working out five days a week and spending a good deal of his "down" time playing pickup soccer with his friends.
All that work, combined with the experience of playing against MLS and international competition, seems to be paying off.
"The main things for me is the game has slowed down," Carrasco said. "Your decision making just has to be a lot quicker at this level. There’s no surprise, but with the experience and playing in those games, it’s becoming slower in my mind and I can make decisions quicker."
Carrasco does not seem well suited to become the creative, attack-minded central midfielder so many are hoping the Sounders to find. As the Sounders showed last year, though, a team can still score plenty of goals without an offensive force in the center of the midfield. If anything, it was the Sounders' tendency to leave too much of the central midfield exposed that got them in trouble. There is also reason to think he and Alonso could eventually form the kind of partnership that frees up the more offensive-minded midfielders to take even more chances. It might not be the perfect solution, but as compromises go this wouldn't be too bad.