Argentine midfielder, whose knee injury hurt Seattle in the playoffs, is confident he'll be at full strength.

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CASA GRANDE, Ariz. — No need to pinch yourselves, Sounders FC fans. Mauro Rosales gets it.

He loves playing here as much as you love him. The Argentine midfielder also is thrilled with playing in MLS, and has picked up on the soccer heartbeat of Seattle and how much the city has embraced this game and this team.

Rosales first joined Sounders FC on a trial a year ago. But once he was signed, he had a big impact. He set a Sounders FC season record of 13 assists in 26 regular-season games, and in so doing endeared himself to Seattle fans.

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After being named MLS’s Newcomer of the Year, Rosales further ingratiated himself with fans by signing a two-year contract in December.

He enters 2012 as a league MVP candidate and could be named one of Seattle’s designated players.

“I feel like when I first came to the league, I didn’t know much, but I got the opportunity to come play in Seattle and be with an important team within the league,” Rosales said in Spanish after a recent preseason training session. “I think it’s a competitive league with good players that is growing a lot and really, it’s lovely. I enjoyed the award but I also enjoyed being around Seattle all season long with the fans, the team and all the people in the organization.”

This from a guy who played at the highest level in world soccer power Argentina and in Holland’s first division.

Rosales could have played in another country. He’ll be 31 at the end of the month and might have made a lot more money in Mexico had a deal been worked out.

Fortunately for the Sounders, he stayed. And when he is on his game, slashing and making runs with the ball, they click.

The proof? Seattle was 13-3-6 when he started, and 10-1-2 when he scored or assisted on a goal last season.

The Sounders clearly missed him in the playoffs. Rosales couldn’t make a full recovery from a knee injury suffered late in 2011 and aggravated in the final match of the regular season. Seattle lost to Real Salt Lake on aggregate goals in the playoffs, failing to make it out of the first round for the third straight year.

It was a disappointing end to Rosales’ and the Sounders’ season, but he isn’t worried about returning to form this season.

“This is the type of injury that I can come back from, and it will still allow me to play a lot more games,” he said. “I was out for the most important part of the season. Not what I hoped for, but soccer is like that.”

Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said Rosales lifts everyone around him.

“He helped make Fredy Montero better, he helped make Ozzie (Alonso) better,” Schmid said. “But at the same token those guys helped him, too. He was a guy that had that little bit of imagination out in the flank. He gave us another dangerous attacking option. It forced teams to have to spread out their defense a little more, which opened up more space inside for Montero.

“Not having him in those final games definitely hurt our team,” the coach added, pointing out what Rosales brings as an experienced locker-room leader and observer as a veteran.

Alonso agrees. “When he got hurt, it was a big loss for the team,” the midfielder said. “Now I hope he’s with us the whole time (in 2012).”

Rosales is buying in and putting down some roots. He got his green card to become a naturalized U.S. citizen recently, and he doesn’t hesitate when asked why. Rosales not only wants to help the Sounders, he likes the U.S. and hopes to play here for a long time.

“I want to spend a lot of years in MLS,” he said.

Seattle has grown on Rosales quickly, and in Spanish he conveys a phrase spoken like a lifelong native.

“En el verano es un paraiso,” Rosales said.

Translation: “In the summer, it’s a paradise.”

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