Within a 90-minute game, there are constant adjustments being made on the soccer field.
Within his first two months with the Sounders FC, Eriq Zavaleta has made several adjustments, too.
The 20-year-old Indiana University product dealt well with the transition to the professional lifestyle, moving across the country to Seattle and jumping right in with the team without missing a step.
He also made a move to center back, a position he played at the youth international level before having an explosive scoring mark in his two seasons with the Hoosiers. However, midway through training camp the Sounders signed Djimi Traore, giving them another veteran to add to the combo of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni. That would make the minutes at center back scarce, so head coach Sigi Schmid moved Zavaleta back to forward, where on Saturday he made his MLS debut, coming on as a second-half substitute in a 1-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes.
“I, of course, would wish that it was in a winning effort, but it’s always good to make your debut,” Zavaleta said.
It may have just registered as six minutes for Zavaleta, but his poise in the match when the Sounders were pressing San Jose for an equalizer justified Schmid’s confidence to put him into the match at such an important moment. While they weren’t able to get the result, the benefit of getting some confidence for the young prospect can’t be understated.
That he was doing it as a forward made it even more comfortable a transition. At Indiana, he scored 28 goals in 46 matches over two seasons, leading the Big-10 conference both seasons and finishing third in the nation with 18 goals as a sophomore.
“Playing forward is fun. You’re the guy that gets out there and is always going to goal. It’s something I did a lot of in college and it’s something that I always wanted to carry on to the professional level,” he said. “I’m starting to get my shot up there and I’m hoping that there’s more opportunity to come.”
There are, no doubt, adjustments that Zavaleta will continue to make in his newest move to forward, but having played at center back he now has a different perspective on how to approach the striker position as well.
During preseason while he was making the adjustment to playing center back, he had several learning experiences, both in matches and in training sessions.
“I was getting there. I was learning from guys that have been around the game and have been playing that position for a long time. I felt like I was learning a lot and adjusting to the physicality but also the tactical part of the game. If I need to go back there I’ll be ready and I’ll be ready to learn,” he said. “I wanted to get on the field in whatever way possible and that seemed like the best way possible.”
Saturday marked his first taste of the forward position in an MLS match, but he had spent a few weeks there in training and played 72 minutes up top in a Reserve League match against Portland last week. That time gave him the reassurance that he can play that position at a high level and gave his confidence a boost heading into his debut match.
Now back in a forward role, he hopes to make an impact in the Rave Green the same way he did in helping Indiana to the national championship in 2012.
“Soccer is all about adjusting to the person you’re playing against and how they’re playing against you,” he said. “I felt like that’s a way that I can learn to take advantage of different center backs and be able to put balls in the back of the net.”