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Alvaro Fernandez hopes a strong showing in 2012 can find him back on the pitch with the Uruguay National Team.

With players representing at least 15 different countries on their roster, there are cultural differences galore on the Sounders FC roster.

One that features prominently is in the hands of Uruguayan midfielder Alvaro Fernandez before and after each match and training session.

“A lot of people give me looks and others stop me and ask me what it does,” Fernandez laughed.  “It’s just tea.”

The gourd holds tea leaves in the top and the drinker pours hot water into the cup, drinking through a filtering straw.  The mate beverage contains several vitamins and minerals, but is otherwise just like any other tea.

And while his mate drinking habit hasn’t molded itself into the culture of the Seattle locker room, Fernandez has become a strong component to the success of the Sounders in the year and a half since he joined the club.

Coming off of a semifinal run with Uruguay at the 2010 World Cup, his whirlwind year saw him join the Sounders midway through the 2010 season and he played a key role off the bench for the Sounders over a stretch that saw them go 8-2-2 in MLS play in the final months of the season.

In 2011, due in part to the devastating injury that finished the season of Steve Zakuani in April, Fernandez’s role became even more prominent.  After scoring 2 goals and adding an assist in 12 appearances, only four of them starts, in 2010, Fernandez was the second-leading scorer in 2011 with 9 goals in 29 matches, starting 23 times.

He has also proved to be an important player in the CONCACAF Champions League, where he had a goal and 2 assists in 2010 and added 2 goals and 3 assists in 2011.

The time since the 2010 World Cup hasn’t hindered his chances of more caps for Uruguay, though.

“I’ve had some conversations with the staff, but it’s been more of a friendly nature than a technical nature,” said Fernandez, who has 11 caps.  “I’m just hoping to have a great season and it will be impossible for them not to call me up.”

His hope is that he can build on his success in 2011, adding to his all-competitions total of 11 goals and 5 assists in his third season in MLS.  With a full off-season now behind him, he has had a strong showing in the first days of training camp.

“I had time to recharge my batteries.  Now I’m 100 percent and ready to go for the season,” Fernandez said.  “When the season starts, you have every expectation to help the team not only by scoring goals, but also by assisting.  I felt good about that last season and I hope to have the same kind of season this year.”

The Sounders will hold their final training session at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center on Saturday before leaving Monday for Casa Grande, Arizona, for the next phase of training camp.  They open the season March 7 at CenturyLink Field against Santos Laguna in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League.  Tickets for the home leg go on sale Monday.