Mike Fucito was in a bit of unfamiliar territory this off-season.
He has battled for every minute of playing time he’s ever gotten. Overcome injuries to be a two-time All-American in college. Earned a roster spot after being drafted in the fourth round of the MLS SuperDraft in 2009 – the only player in MLS from the final round of that year’s draft. And fought back from an obscure injury in 2010 to be one of the many bright spots in the second half of the season.
So when his name was listed among the 11 players protected by the Sounders FC in the 2010 Expansion Draft, he was flattered.
That’s not to say he didn’t feel deserving.
He did score a memorable game-winning goal against the Kansas City Wizards in stoppage time on April 17. Then he scored one and had another shot deflected in for an own goal to give Seattle a 2-0 lead in a Champions League match they wound up dropping 3-2 on the road against Monterrey. He added two more against Marathon at Qwest Field to give him three goals in CCL play, more than any other Sounder.
“I know I’m not the most talented guy on the field, but I try to make the most of every opportunity,” Fucito said.
In between, though, was as low as those aforementioned moments were high.
Just before scoring against Kansas City, Fucito suffered a knee injury that appeared may only keep him out a couple of weeks. However, the swelling would not subside and his knee had to be drained of fluid a dozen times. Mystery surrounded the injury and why it would not heal until finally he went under the knife and had over 100 stitches inside his knee, in essence quilting the tissue together to prevent further fluid build-up.
Nearly five months after suffering the initial injury, Fucito returned to the field, coming on as a late-game sub in a 3-1 loss to the New England Revolution. He made two more appearances off the bench before earning the start against Monterrey in he viewed as an opportunity to prove himself healthy and capable. That it came against the strongest team in the group on the road only fed his fire more.
“I’m not unfamiliar with that position - being an underdog and having to prove myself,” Fucito said. “I kind of like doing that. It motivates me. It’s why I work hard.”
He responded in only the way Fucito could.
With a hostile crowd of nearly 20,000 on hand at Estadio Tecnologico in Monterrey, Mexico, Fucito carried the Sounders to a 2-0 halftime lead. First his shot in the 28th minute was redirected into the net for an own-goal, then dropped in a right-footed goal on a Seattle break for a 2-0 lead just before halftime. Monterrey mounted a tremendous comeback with three goals in three minutes to take the 3-2 win, but the impact of Fucito’s effort changed the course of his future.
“That was a big game for our team. The chances of advancing were slim and we threw some guys in there – some were in over their head and some guys rose,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said. “Mike was one of the guys who rose and showed that he can play at that standard.”
In December, his name was included among the 11 players the Sounders protected in the Expansion Draft, keeping him off the roster of Cascadia rivals Portland and Vancouver.
The move may have been somewhat surprising, but not met with a modicum of skepticism from those who had seen Fucito play.
“You don’t want to lose anybody, because you’ve spent time building and investing in these guys,” Schmid said. “With Mike, he showed the ability to score some goals for us when he was healthy. We felt there was a good upside for him and it was just a matter of him getting the playing time to improve on what he did last year.”
Fucito is among a group of forwards that could be the deepest position on a deep Sounders roster. With incumbent starters Fredy Montero and Blaise Nkufo back, Nate Jaqua returning from injury and the addition of O’Brian White, the Sounders have five capable starters who have proven to be potent goal-scorers.
Now entering his third season in MLS, Fucito comes in with a new vantage point and preparation. Already one of the fastest players on the Sounders roster, he now is playing with a further vengeance to prove himself.
Whereas he is accustomed to prove himself to doubters, now he is out to prove the Sounders right in their faith in him.