When the Sounders FC lost Steve Zakuani to a fractured leg on April 22, the question arose as to where they would get that valuable production on the left side of the midfield.
In his five starts before the injury, Zakuani had two goals and two assists in five matches. Couple that with his ten goals and seven assists in 2010 and Seattle had a dynamic goal-scoring threat on the left side that was practically unmatched in Major League Soccer.
In the last five matches, though, Alvaro Fernandez has blossomed into a scoring threat in his own right on that left side, netting three goals to give him six on the season to match Fredy Montero for the team lead.
“When we lost Steve, it was a question of where we are going to get some goals from. Alvaro’s really stepped up and provided those goals for us,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said.
When the Sounders signed Fernandez last summer, they were expecting a productive midfielder, but not one that would provide a lot of flash. In his efforts in 2011, he has given the team exactly what they hoped to get when they signed him to a Designated Player contract.
A World Cup veteran at just 25 years old, Fernandez hasn’t made people forget about Zakuani – that was never his goal. He has helped people see that there are many different ways to play the position, though.
“There’s going to be nobody who can fill that hole – not me, not anybody else – because he has very unique characteristics as a player,” Fernandez said of Zakuani. “Without a doubt, I’m taking my role very serious and doing my best to lessen the impact of that injury on the team.”
Fernandez has settled into that role, but also has adjusted to America after a whirlwind 2010. He started the year on a loan from Nacional in his native Uruguay to Universidad de Chile. After that season concluded, he went to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where he helped Uruguay reach the semifinals before finishing fourth. After the conclusion of the World Cup, he got married, joined the Sounders and had his first child, a boy, all within the next three months.
He would play 12 matches for the Sounders in 2010, scoring twice in MLS play and adding another goal in CONCACAF Champions League play to get Seattle out of the preliminary round against Metapan of El Salvador. Starting the 2011 season, wasn’t quite as smooth a transition as hoped once things calmed though. Over Seattle’s first six matches, he played just 188 minutes.
Then, in his first match after Zakuani’s injury, he scored in the ninth minute of a 3-0 win over Toronto FC and added another goal three matches later in a 1-1 draw with the Portland Timbers.
A hamstring injury limited him in a five-match stretch, two of which he missed altogether. More crushing to him than missing those two matches was that the strained hamstring prevented him from going to Argentina to play again for Uruguay in Copa America. His home country went on to win the tournament while Fernandez looked on from Seattle.
“It was a little complicated because I could have probably played, but I did have that injury the week before it was time to travel. It just didn’t work out. But I’m still a part of the team and I’m still proud watching them,” he said. “Everyone is proud of their country when they are able to play in a game like that. I’m just really proud of my team and all the guys who played that they were able to come out champions.”
Though he was disappointed he couldn’t be there to enjoy the championship with his teammates, he went about his business in MLS, coming back with a vengeance once he returned to the starting lineup.
Schmid has still managed his playing time, only extending him over 75 minutes once in the last six matches, all starts for Fernandez. His newfound scoring prowess has allowed Seattle to diversify their attack.
“He’s had good success. He needs to continue to do that and needs to continue to be dangerous for us, going forward,” Schmid said. “He’s definitely somebody who can beat players off the dribble, he’s got two decent feet and he’s a good header of the ball, which gets him some goals, as well. Him scoring goals is important for us because it makes it tougher to match up with us.”
The success, in addition to his own work, is also a testament to the camaraderie he’s developed with his teammates. While he could easily be boastful of his production, he instead laughs it off and uses it as an opportunity to praise his teammates.
“They’ve practically left the goals ready-made for me and I’ve just stuck them in, so the credit really goes to the entire team and how we’ve played together,” he said.