Midfielder Alvaro Fernandez was the star playmaker in Saturday's MLS season opener. Can he keep it up Friday against Houston?
TUKWILA — Assists for Alvaro Fernandez in his first 2,324 MLS minutes: one.
Assists for Fernandez in 65 minutes Saturday: two, plus most of the heavy lifting on another goal.
Before a breakthrough performance in Sounders FC’s home opener, goals had been the predominant stat for the talented midfielder. But the difference in his playmaking last weekend was unmistakable in a 3-1 win against Toronto FC.
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“He came out on fire,” said teammate Brad Evans.
That production from Fernandez will need to continue this season, according to coach Sigi Schmid, and no more so than in the next couple weeks with midfielder Mauro Rosales out with a sprained knee. The first test comes at 7 p.m. Friday against the MLS Cup runner-up Houston Dynamo at CenturyLink Field.
“He’s shown his ability to … score some goals and that’ll come as well, but him getting assists is important for our team’s success,” said Schmid.
Saturday was evidence of that. And after helping set up a trio of goals by David Estrada, Fernandez was most pleased with the result.
“I don’t really give much importance to whether it’s an assist or a goal or the stats,” he said through an interpreter. “I just play the game and hope I’m contributing in a win for the team.”
Over a season and a half in Seattle, Fernandez has settled in nicely and drawn interest from top leagues in Europe. But that hasn’t always been the case.
Nicknamed “El Flaco” for his slender build, Fernandez joined the Sounders as a designated player in the summer of 2010, fresh off helping Uruguay to a deep run in the FIFA World Cup. It was a difficult adjustment to MLS for Fernandez, who mostly played off the bench to start.
Plus his family had visa issues that made it impossible for his wife and newborn son to join him in Seattle.
“The first year I was here wasn’t the greatest year for me,” Fernandez said.
Things improved last season, but only after a slow start. Fernandez was in and out of the lineup early on, and Schmid expressed concerns last May that he was developing a reputation around the league as a diver. Injuries also affected him.
Said Schmid: “It took him a little bit longer than some of the other guys to understand (the league), and for us to appreciate all his strengths and take advantage of them.”
Of Seattle’s six goals this season, Fernandez has scored one, assisted on two, helped set up another and drew a foul that set up a fifth. Fernandez’s nine goals last season were the second-most in MLS for a midfielder and second on the team to Fredy Montero’s 12.
No surprise there’s international interest.
Fernandez insists he’s happy in Seattle and doesn’t think much about a possible future abroad — though the right opportunity would be hard to turn down.
“Right now, I’m just focusing on just playing my best soccer,” he said.
Sounders buy out White’s contract
As expected, Sounders FC announced Thursday that it had bought out the guaranteed contract of injured forward O’Brian White for the 2012 season. The 26-year-old has had a complicated recovery from recurring blood clots in his left leg.
White no longer counts toward the team’s roster or salary cap. He will still be paid his six-figure salary and receive medical benefits.
“We will fully support O’Brian and will continue to help him rehabilitate with the hope he can resume his playing career,” Adrian Hanauer, general manager and owner, said in a release.
• Away fans will be allocated a minimum of 800 tickets for Cascadia games this season between Sounders FC, the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps, according to Seattle’s Alliance Council. The allocation was 500 last year.
• Defender Adam Johansson (hamstring) will be a game-time decision.