In the hours leading up to the Sounders FC’s meeting with the Colorado Rapids on Saturday, Seattle’s starting XI took a quick and decisive turn when Alvaro Fernandez strained his quad in the final training session before the match.
Already playing without midfielder Mauro Rosales and defender Adam Johansson on the right side, the loss of Fernandez meant head coach Sigi Schmid would have to get creative with the left side too.
Schmid had used Roger Levesque and Christian Sivebæk on the right side of the midfield and moved Estrada from forward to play that role on Saturday. With Fernandez out of action, he turned to young Alex Caskey on the left side, using his fourth different midfield lineup in the club’s first five games.
Starting Caskey was another coaching move that paid off for Schmid, as the 23-year-old midfielder from Dunwoody, Georgia, sent a corner kick to the near post where Zach Scott nodded in the game-winning goal in Seattle’s 1-0 win over the Rapids.
“I was just hoping to bring my energy and work-rate and use that intensity to make something happen for the team,” he said after the victory that brought the Sounders to 3-1-1 on the season.
Caskey brings a much different skill-set to that of Fernandez. But as the Sounders battle their way out of the injury hole, they are less concerned with how they earn results as they are with the results themselves.
“Every player is going to bring something different,” midfielder Brad Evans said. “The most important thing is that we are getting results from everybody that’s coming on the field.”
Because of the absences of both Rosales and Fernandez, who both were taking corner kicks and free kicks this season, Caskey was asked to fulfill that element of the Seattle attack – much higher responsibility than most would have in their MLS debuts. That left Caskey with high expectations as well.
“The guys are still not sure how much Caskey is going to provide. I think as he plays a little more guys are going to understand that he can play-make a little bit, too, and do some things,” Schmid said.
While they are growing more familiar with his play-making, one other element of his game caught Evans by surprise.
“What I don’t see in practice much is that hard tackle. He got stuck in a few times, which is good to see,” Evans said. “He has no problem taking on guys and shooting when he wants to and making good creative passes, too.”
His learning curve thus far has been incredibly steep, with him moving quickly into the 18-man roster, getting minutes and now filling in for a start. Along the way, he has a goal in the reserve league and has now added his first MLS assist. If he continues along that curve, he’ll have plenty more to celebrate in years to come.