It had been over six months since Shalrie Joseph started at the central midfield position that earned him MLS Best XI honors in four seasons and an MLS All-Star nod in eight of his 10 seasons. But on Tuesday night, he made his return to his comfort zone in his debut for the Sounders FC, pairing with Osvaldo Alonso in the middle of midfield in Seattle’s CONCACAF Champions League Semifinal meeting with Santos Laguna.
“I wasn’t as sharp as I would like to be, but felt great getting that first game under my belt,” said Joseph. “It didn’t go the way we wanted, but there’s a lot of positive things we can take from it and I can take from it and try to be better next week.”
Joseph played nine seasons with the New England Revolution, then midway through the 2012 season he was traded to Chivas USA. There, he played eight matches in his customary midfield role, then played the last four matches of the season as a center back. During the preseason, he was traded to Seattle, but missed the month of March while recovering from a strained calf.
Now entrenched in his new team with the Sounders FC, he is working back to the form that saw him play as one of the best players in the league from 2007-2011, and took the first step to that on Tuesday.
“I think he helps us. He’s a good distributer of the ball, I think he finds people forward, but he’s another guy who hasn’t played a 90-minute game in an awful long time, so he’s rounding into fitness,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “I thought in the first 45 minutes helped us. It sounds like a broken record but it’s true—unfortunately we’re still trying to get to know each other.”
Joseph’s affinity toward playing first-time balls caught some players by surprise, according to Schmid, but as he sees more time in training and in games, he will develop a better understanding with the rest of his Sounders FC teammates.
Then, he says, the team will have boundless potential.
“We just need more time together,” he said. “The more we practice together and everybody gets healthy, I think the sky is going to be the limit.”
Primary among those teammates that Joseph is learning to play alongside is Alonso. While Joseph was the best in his role for much of his career, Alonso has since taken that crown. The two of them together will undoubtedly cause chaos in opposing midfields and disrupt team’s plans as they try to push forward.
Already, Joseph has a great amount of respect for Alonso, watching him from near and far over Alonso’s first four years in MLS. Playing together, the two will be able to complement each other’s best attributes and raise their respective levels of play.
“Ozzie is just an unbelievable player defensively and going forward. Now I just have to step up my level, match his intensity, match his game preparation, match everything he does and keep pushing this team forward,” Joseph said. “We’ve got a lot of creative guys on the outside and up top. Once he and I get on the same page together I think it’s going to be really good for this team and really good for both of our careers.”