Underrated Sounders is back, and I’m once again returning to the 2012-2013 era. I don’t know why this version of the team fascinates me so much. Maybe it’s because they’re squashed in history between Open Cup Sounders and Supporters’ Shield Sounders. Maybe it’s because the team was transitioning and making a lot of interesting player acquisitions both domestically and abroad. Maybe it’s because those teams were as deep and talented as any in the pre-TAM era but never fully put it together. Or maybe it’s because Spokane started getting more Sounders broadcasts during that time. Regardless, I’m in too deep now to back out.
In another very on-brand move, I’m also picking a technical, fleet-footed winger: Alex Caskey.
The Sounders selected Alex Caskey with a third round, 47th overall pick in the 2011 MLS draft. After getting cut prior to pre-season camp in Arizona that year, he would return to the south — where he’d played collegiately at Davidson — and sign with the Charleston Battery. The Sounders did retain his MLS rights for another year, and Caskey ended up making the squad in 2012.
After this brief, humble beginning to his pro career, Caskey excelled in his MLS rookie season, finishing third on the team in assists through all competitions. Unfortunately, his 2013 season was hampered by a nagging ankle injury that cut his MLS minutes by more than half.
The Sounders wound up trading Caskey to D.C. United prior to the 2014 season. There, he would only make two starts and 11 appearances. D.C. released the third year player at the end of the year.
Caskey was a hard-working, quick-footed winger and occasional CAM with good set piece delivery and a surprising knack for the audacious. He first appeared on a Sounders score sheet with a game winning assist to Zach Scott from a corner kick. His only MLS goal for the club was an outrageous first time chip from 35 yards out. And in the Concacaf Champions League highlights below, you can find him coolly slotting home the game’s opening goal, and, more importantly, snatching a defender’s soul (1:55) off the dribble before assisting a Fredy Montero goal.
Trophies and highlights
As has now been well established, the Sounders didn’t win any trophies in 2012 or 2013. And unlike Michael Gspurning, Mario Martinez, Eddie Johnson, and Jhon Kenendy Hurtado, Caskey didn’t play a role in any playoff successes from either season. He did, however, help the team get to both the knockout round of Champions League in 2012-13 (where they would go on to reach the semi-final) and the 2012 U.S. Open Cup final (where they unfairly lost on penalties).
Caskey’s best highlight during his two year stint with the team is easily the long-distance chip he scored against the Galaxy in what I believe is one of the most entertaining home games the Sounders have ever played. The 4-0 master class came in the middle of a roughly five-year spell when the two clubs were the most consistent threats in the West. Though Seattle would have to wait until 2014 to win a truly significant fixture against LA, this 2012 performance, in which a little known rookie completely dashed the Galaxy’s chance at a comeback, felt like a modicum of revenge for mostly being on the wrong side of the rivalry’s results.
Why he’s underrated
Caskey is underrated for the simple fact that I don’t know what happened to Alex Caskey (except that at some point he became a lawyer in Georgia). After being quietly released by D.C. United at the age of 26, he appears to have never suited up for another professional soccer match, MLS or USL.
Players wash out of professional leagues at a young age all the time, but most don’t finish their rookie season third for assists on one of the best teams in the league and then retire from the game all together only two seasons later. That there’s no readily available info on his apparent retirement is a sour fact belying of how good he truly was.
At the end of 2013, he starred in a delightful Sounders promo vid with fellow second-year player Andy Rose, who up to that point had played comparable minutes to Caskey. Rose would go on to play in the Scottish Premiership and has now amassed over 6,000 MLS minutes. The pair’s divergent career paths are a reminder of the small margins in professional sports.
At least when Caskey was healthy and playing with the Sounders, he shined. Beyond scoring and assisting key goals in multiple cup runs, the third round draft pick proved that you don’t have to be a big budget signing to play with courage and flair. For that, I give a shout out to the man from Georgia who made his presence unmistakably felt, if only for a brief time, in the Pacific Northwest. Cheers to you, Alex Caskey.