It’s a big week for Hugo Alcaraz-Cueller. A native of Guadalajara, he is anxious to see Wednesday’s game between Mexico and China at Qwest Field. Then the Sounders’ playmaking midfielder and his teammates go into action themselves. Seattle begins its final USL Division 1 season Saturday at Charleston.
Tell us about your journey in the game, your dreams and what brought you to this point.
I was born in Guadalajara but grew up in Santa Barbara. There were five boys in our family and all we did was play and watch soccer. I played for the community college, then got a scholarship at Fresno State for two seasons. As I promised my mother, I earned my degree, then played one season for the San Diego Flash. It’s funny because I almost came to Seattle that same year (2001) for a tryout. San Diego folded, and the next five years (2002-06) I spent in Portland. The atmosphere and fans were great, and I had a coach (Bobby Howe) and GM (Jim Taylor) who believed in me. The thing that has brought me to where I am is that I love to play soccer just like I did when I was a little boy. Other than having the chance of playing for the Mexican national team, I think I’m living a dream because I get to play the best sport in the world, day in and day out. Some day I hope to coach professionally. Soccer is in my blood and I feel I owe so much to the game because it has given me so many great experiences.
Describe how you connected to Mexican soccer as a boy.
It goes back to when I was growing up watching it on TV with my dad and brothers. In the summers and Christmas breaks my family would go to Guadalajara to see games. Those were the best times. The stadiums were packed and outside there were vendors who sold the best food and team apparel. I remember one time my dad got so excited and ran onto the field after a league championship game. As I watched games, I picked up things up, everything from how the players wore their uniforms to the way they played. My dad told me that to play professional soccer one day, I had to study the players. My favorite team has always been Chivas de Guadalajara, Mexico’s biggest and most popular club, and my favorite player was Benjamin Galindo, who played for Chivas and the national team. His nickname was “el Maestro,” the teacher, and his passing with both feet and vision was above the rest.
Tell us about your time and life away from Sounders training, travel and matches.
My life away from the game is spent with my wife Silvia who is five weeks pregnant. We are very excited and can’t wait to be parents. I also coach soccer because I love to work and share my experience with young soccer players. I have my own soccer academy, Lightning Strike, and, yeah, I watch soccer on TV.
What made the Sounders so successful last season?
I think we were successful because every time we stepped on the field we believed we were going to win. After a slow start Brian (Schmetzer) and his staff made adjustments and we began to roll. We started to find our chemistry on the field and next thing you know we had a streak of about 15 games without a loss. Once playoffs came around we lifted our level of play another notch. In the end our commitment, hard work and sacrifices paid off. What a ride it was!
Seattle and Portland have a healthy rivalry, and yet you chose to switch sides before last season. How did that go?
After 2006, Portland got a new coach and GM, and they never contacted me about returning. That was difficult because I’d given everything I had for the Timbers. The fans were really great to me, I’d made a lot friends. Seattle was already my home, but I didn’t think playing for the Sounders would work out. Then I got a call from Adrian (Hanauer), and he asked if I would be interested. I just wanted to play where I would be respected and appreciated as a player and person, and I felt like Adrian, Brian and I understood each other really well. They knew that I would give everything for the Sounders, just like I did the Timbers. In the end, we had a great year and won the USL Div 1 championship.
Why do you wear the No. 77?
I chose No. 77 because ‘7’ was already taken by Leighton O'Brien, and he said it would cost me $1,000. I said, No thanks! Actually 77 brought me some good luck. Nathan Knox gave me a hard time but in the end, after we won the championship, he wanted to do something similar, like wear No. 111.
You tend to create lots of chances for others, and twice led the USL in assists. How do you get in those positions during the game and what things do you pride yourself in?
You have to read the game and see the play develop, put yourself where you can be effective and other times you have to create on your own such as a 1-on-1 situations, then you have to concentrate and execute the play, which can be just as beautiful if not more than the goal. I pride myself in being consistent, productive, and playing at a high level. It’s also important to do well because there are not a lot of Mexican players in the U.S. leagues and I feel a responsibility to represent and do well so others can get an opportunity.
With some Sounders players to be retained by the MLS club after this summer, does that change the atmosphere in the squad?
The atmosphere at practice has been great so far. I think everyone understands that there is a chance to play in the MLS with Seattle Sounders FC, but our focus is on this season because we have an opportunity to make it a special one. I remember a lot of players were asking to keep the team for 2007, and we got our wish. It would mean a lot to us, the fans, and former players who have been a part of the club to ride out into the sunset with a championship.
Eleven starters are back, so does that necessarily mean Seattle is a sure thing to repeat?
Nothing is ever for sure but it gives us a very good chance. With more than half the team returning we have a good start. Preseason so far has been very competitive and fun. Guys know that they have to work hard and earn their time on the field. We know the path to be a champion and need to follow it. I think other teams have gotten stronger, but Adrian and Brian are doing the same by bringing in some good players. It won't be easy to repeat as champions but were preparing ourselves to be even better than last year. That’s what champions do.
Wednesday’s game between Mexico and China is expecting a large crowd, are you surprised by this?
Not at all. Soccer in Mexico is everything, 24 hours, 7 days a week, and it will always have a special place in life. I hope one day we win a World Cup. That will be the one of the greatest days in Mexican history. There is a huge Mexican and Chinese population in Seattle who love the game of soccer, and I know people from Portland are also coming up. You combine that with the huge soccer community in Seattle then it should make for a packed Qwest Field. I can't wait. Vamos Mexico!