For longtime Sounders supporters, you could not have asked for a better year than 2009. Winning the US Open Cup, playing in front of sellout crowds at Qwest Field and causing a tidal wave of Rave Green support throughout the Northwest, the Sounders FC was among the biggest stories of the year and everyone was thrilled to be along for the ride.
Except Taylor Graham.
After playing three years with the Sounders in the USL and two stints in Major League soccer, Graham was poised to compete for a starting role with the Sounders FC in the 2009 preseason. But then his feet failed him. Or rather, his foot, as in a broken foot and several subsequent compensatory injuries causing the central defender to miss all but a couple games during Seattle’s inaugural voyage into the MLS.
It started with the broken foot in an exhibition with the L.A. Galaxy at an auxiliary field of the Home Depot Center, but Graham continued to play for another five games before he had the foot examined by team medical director Dr. Michael Morris, just one day before leaving for preseason training in Argentina. It was then when he learned his foot was broken and would require several weeks of rehabilitation.
He came back and felt great in a friendly against FC Barcelona, then had another setback shortly thereafter, so he took some time off to make sure he didn’t create a pattern of injury.
“It was frustrating. I’m a soccer player and I’m competitive and stubborn. That’s why I’m still playing and why I still want to play, so that makes those frustrations hard to deal with,” Graham said from Starfire where the team is holding training camp. “At times it takes situations like this to appreciate where you are and remind you that there is a fine line between being able to do it and not being able to do it. So, you need to make sure that you appreciate it while you’re doing it, but also make sure you’re doing all the right things so it can’t be taken away from you.”
This offseason, he took it slow, staying in Seattle – which he calls home now – and working on his supplementary skills to ensure that he was strong for the start of training camp.
“It’s been motivating. I’ve actually been taking it slower and more conservative than I have in the past just to make sure that I feel right,” said Graham, 29. “We had access to the CATZ facility, so I worked on some explosiveness and strength. I didn’t really focus on fitness because that will come in the preseason. You have to sacrifice one to work on things you won’t be able to do during the preseason.”
Last year was a first for Graham. Throughout his career he had never been one to miss too many games because of injury. The 2009 season was unique because the first injury came on a tackle and every other injury he had was a derivative of that injury.
Now fully healed, Graham is looking forward to showing Sounders fans exactly why the club signed him early in training camp last year.
“I hope I can show the fans because you have to earn the respect of the crowd. My strengths are my organization and my communication. Winning balls in the air. I try to be simple and organized from the back. I’m not a dynamic goalscorer by any means. I try to know my role and stick to that. I’m happy if we don’t get scored on and if people don’t really notice me – that’s how you know if I’m doing my job,” he said. “My goal is to be playing every day and pushing everyone that made the team so successful last year. I have no illusions of grandeur in terms of coming in and not doing anything more than I can.”
He may have more opportunity for playing time in 2010, as the Sounders will be defending their 2009 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup title, but they will also be playing in the CONCACAF Champions League, potentially adding several extra games to the Sounders FC schedule.
“One of the reasons we were successful last year in the Open Cup is that we were able to play our whole roster during those preliminary rounds,” Graham said. “Now we have the Open Cup and Champions League and I think the teams that will be successful in these tournaments will be the teams that have a deep and talented team from the first to the 24th player.”
“With ties to the community and to the city and feeling a sense of pride in where the sport and the team and the organization are, it seems like more than a year ago that we were training at VMAC and not knowing what to expect,” Graham said. “We had high expectations in terms of the support, but every expectation was exceeded so it was our responsibility as players to try to make sure we did the same things on the field. For me, I wasn’t on the field all that much, but still feel that it was a collective group effort. To be on the inside looking out, despite my frustrations, was very special.”