He hasn’t been grabbing headlines, but Sounders FC midfielder Alex Caskey has had quite the week.
On Friday, he suited up in a 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo, appearing in the 18-man lineup sheet for the first time in Major League Soccer. Then on Monday, he scored in the 72nd minute of Seattle’s 1-1 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps to start off the reserve league season.
“It’s really exciting to finally get out there and wear the Sounders uniform,” he said while boarding the bus after the draw in Vancouver. “I was happy to get the goal.”
The 23-year-old midfielder from Dunwoody, Georgia, was drafted by the Sounders in the third round of the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. However, the day-to-day experience at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina, wasn’t quite enough to prepare him for the level that he would need to reach in MLS.
So after a brief stint with Seattle in training camp in 2011, he played the season for the Charleston Battery in the USL Pro, the third division in the American soccer pyramid. There he played 19 matches, scoring once for the Battery, who finished fourth in the league one year after winning the championship with former Sounder Lamar Neagle leading the charge.
Like Neagle, Caskey used his experience with the USL side to springboard to the MLS level. Neagle was a revelation for the Sounders last year, starting the season in a reserve role before being thrust into the starting lineup because of injuries and responding with five goals and two assists in the MLS regular season.
“He had played at a Division-I college in Davidson, which plays a lot of good opposition, but they’re not one of the premier Division-I schools. I think the consistency, the day-to-day, the sharpness of playing was something that he really needed to become ingrained within his playing style,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “By the end of the year he made his way into the starting lineup and the coach felt like he was going to be one of their main guys this year, but he came in and did really well for us. His consistency became a lot better, his hardness became better, he became stronger on the ball. I think the program really helped him with both those things.”
Caskey agrees that he wasn’t quite ready for the MLS level coming out of college and got a lot out of his experience with Charleston. He saw the difference in his play from the first moment he returned to Starfire to train with the Sounders in January.
“Coming out of college, I wasn’t quite prepared for the physicality and the speed of play and everything that goes into MLS. A year playing in Charleston was definitely helpful,” he said. “From the beginning I realized I was better prepared to play with the first team guys that last year were on a higher level.”
Neagle isn’t the only figure of hope for Caskey though. Now with his first taste of the MLS reserve league, he is also looking at the success of David Estrada and seeing a future for himself with Seattle. Estrada started all ten reserve games for the Sounders last year, but was limited in his action in league games. This year, he found himself starting in the season opener, netting a hat-trick in a 3-1 win over Toronto FC and followed it up with another goal in a 2-0 win over the Dynamo last week.
“It gives you hope that you can one day do the same thing,” Caskey said. “If you get the game time in the reserve games, you can improve throughout the year and hopefully get into the first team.”
It was another small step this week for Caskey, sitting on the bench in an important MLS match at CenturyLink Field then scoring in a reserve match, but it was a giant leap for his confidence, confirming in some ways that he’d made the right choice in playing for Charleston in 2011.
His path, however, is far from over.
“I was excited to finally get in the 18,” he said. “Now I just hope I can get some game time.”
The Sounders host the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday at CenturyLink Field. Kickoff is set for 7 pm and the match will be televised on KONG 6/16, with the radio broadcast on 97.3 KIRO FM.