From his first start at CenturyLink Field on April 9 against the Chicago Fire, it was apparent that the Sounders FC supporters would love Mauro Rosales.
His flair for the sensational and innate ability to elevate his teammates to a new level, all while donning a look of steely intensity interrupted with an occasional smile directed at a teammate or fan, make him an instant fan-favorite.
On Tuesday night, with the Sounders FC Alliance on hand at the Annual Business Meeting, the Sounders FC announced that they had signed midfield maestro Mauro Rosales to a multi-year contract extension.
“It was easy. Both sides wanted it to happen – I wanted to stay and they wanted me back,” Rosales said from his home in Argentina. “I made that decision a long time ago. I want to give my best to the team that gave me the opportunity to play last year.”
As the Sounders build toward the 2012 season, the inclusion of Rosales in those designs became ever-more important as the 2011 season finished and club captain Kasey Keller retired, leaving a leadership void the club hadn’t faced in their three-year existence.
“Mauro had a huge impact for us on the field. He had an equally large impact for us off the field in the locker room as a leader. With Kasey moving on and some of the moves we anticipated in the off-season it was important for us to keep his leadership in the locker room,” Sounders FC owner/GM Adrian Hanauer said. “We’re hopeful that with a full year with the team and now heading into a full preseason that he can potentially give us a little bit more. Beyond that, he’s just such a good guy. It’s great to have personalities like that on the team.”
Rosales came to the Sounders in the preseason of 2011 with a pedigree for success. He played previously with Newell’s Old Boys in his native Argentina before playing with soccer giants Ajax in Holland and River Plate in Argentina.
That resume and a contagious spirit led for a quick inclusion into the fabric of the Sounders FC. He was eased into the lineup over the first few matches of the season, then picked up assists in three of his first four starts as Seattle went 2-0-2 in that stretch early in the season.
By June, he adjusted to his teammates and the league and exploded over the next four months to inject himself into the MLS Most Valuable Player conversation, only to finish fifth in voting at the end of the season. He finished the season third in the league with 13 assists to go with five goals, which was third on the club. His eye-popping stats earned him MLS Newcomer of the Year honors and his assist total was the highest by an MLS Newcomer since Polish forward Jerzy Podbrozny had 14 assists for the Chicago Fire in 1998.
While the Sounders knew they were getting a high-quality player and he came under high recommendation from former teammates, they couldn’t imagine the type of person they would be signing when they brought him into camp.
“We did some research, but we really had no idea,” Hanauer said. “The fact that he integrated so quickly and became such a popular guy within the team so quickly was just a giant bonus for us.”
His impact was immeasurable as he guided the Sounders to a 13-3-6 record in his 22 starts. He even had one 11-match stretch in which he tallied four goals and nine assists, while the Sounders went 7-2-2.
He finished the season with a sprained knee, but said on Tuesday that he would be prepared to open training camp in full with his teammates in mid-January.
Now at home in Argentina for the off-season, he is asked frequently about life in Seattle, in America and in MLS. He has the same answer for each.
“Everybody in the world wants to play for a club like Seattle,” Rosales said. “Last year was amazing.”
To Sounders FC fans, that feeling is mutual.