Alashe keeps level head after whirlwind start

By Paul Kennedy

Last week was a pretty good week for San Jose Earthquakes rookie midfielder Fatai Alashe.

He got an email from U.S. Soccer saying he'd been called up to the U-23 national team. He scored the first goal at the new Avaya Stadium. And his Michigan State Spartans knocked off No. 2 seed Virginia in the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament.

"March is a good time for them," Alashe said of the Spartans, who also beat UVa in the 2014 NCAA Tournament.

March hasn't been too bad for Alashe, who had missed almost all of preseason with the Quakes because of a groin injury and was called into the U-23s after only one pro start.

Alashe was taken with the No. 4 pick in the MLS SuperDraft out of Michigan State, missed most the preseason with a groin injury, but recovered in time to play in the second half of the Quakes' soft opener at Avaya Stadium, a 3-2 win over the LA Galaxy, in late February.

"Looking at him and hearing about him we felt he was MLS-ready," said San Jose coach Dominic Kinnear. "Obviously, he's shown that. We would have liked to have had him play more in preseason, but he played 45 minutes against the Galaxy and looked like he belonged."

In practice between the first and second games of the season, Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi suffered a groin injury, and Kinnear turned to Alashe. "We needed someone to play there after J.B. was injured, " said the Quakes coach, "so he was the logical choice."

Alashe's first start was a baptism by fire: against the defending Supporters' Shield champion Sounders in Seattle. On his first challenge, Clint Dempsey won the ball from Alashe and went on to score. It took all of 12 seconds.

But Alashe didn't panic. He helped set up the tying goal by Chris Wondolowski in the 13th minute when he turned the tables on Dempsey and won a ball in midfield. Alashe played the entire 90 minutes, and the Quakes went on to win, 3-2.

"I wasn’t thinking too much about what happened with that first goal," Alashe told reporters later. "That kind of left my mind right after."

Alashe's second start brought a new set of challenges. The Quakes were opening Avaya Stadium with a capacity crowd on hand and national television audience for their game Sunday against Chicago. And he had to prepare for his long flight 7 a.m. the next morning to Europe for U-23 friendlies against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Denmark.

"No matter how long it takes to get there," Alashe said after Sunday's game, "I'll enjoy it."

Alashe was again involved in the action early in the game. His role on corner kicks was to stand in front of Sean Johnson and block the Fire keeper, but in the fifth minute, Matias Perez Garcia's corner kick was knocked around the area until it came to Alashe, who flicked it into the net.

"When the ball got headed back in in front of the goal," he said, "I did whatever I could to get a touch on it."

The Quakes jumped out to a 2-0 lead but then had to hang on before beating the Fire, 2-1, for their second straight win.

"I think we handled it pretty well," Alashe said. "I think we all embraced what was going on. It's easy to get distracted but none of us played into that thing and we got the result we needed."

Alashe was just one of two MLS rookies -- NYCFC's Khiry Shelton is the other -- to get callups from Andi Herzog for the first U-23 camp of 2015. Alashe's older bother, Latif, who attended Michigan, had gone with the U.S. U-18s on a trip to South America in 2008, but this was his first-ever callup to a national team. He admitted he wasn't entirely surprised.

"I had thought about it before," he said. "Things were going pretty well, so I felt it was a possibility it might happen but it's not something you can count on."

Alashe isn't about to let everything go to his head.

"In college," he said, "I wanted to play professional, but obviously, I didn't imagine it would go this way. I've had a good couple weeks. But it can go either way. You can have great weeks, and you can have bad weeks, so you want keep a level head."
1 comment about "Alashe keeps level head after whirlwind start".
  1. Richard Broad, March 26, 2015 at 10:24 p.m.

    Not surprising to see this fine young man experience success at the professional level. Props to Dominic Kinnear for recognizing his talent and Damon Rensing and the Michigan State staff for preparing him for MLS.

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