It may be only the halfway point of his rookie season, but Northville’s Fatai Alashe is making quite a presence already in Major League Soccer.
The San Jose Earthquakes midfielder, who was a first-round selection (No. 4 overall) out of Michigan State in the 2015 SuperDraft, could be challenging No. 1 overall pick Cyle Larin of the expansion Orlando City FC for MLS Rookie of the Year honors before it’s all said and done.
The 6-foot, 170-pound Alashe not only has made an impact in 14 MLS appearances for the Quakes, but also gained valuable international experience during the spring with the US Under-23 National Team.
“I think it’s going well,” Alashe said. “Obviously getting a chance to play is a big deal. So any time you’re in there and you’re playing, it’s big for you because not all the rookies get that opportunity, and plus I’ve been given chances. Even though I’ve been given the opportunity, obviously my game still has a lot of room to grow. And hopefully I’ll continue to progress.”
Alashe, who has one goal, plays more a holding midfielder, a No. 6 role, with the Quakes under coach Dominic Kinnear.
But as a member so far with the U-23 squad, he’s more of an attacking midfielder.
Last month in the Toulon Tournament in France, Alashe helped the US Under-23 team place third with a 3-2 record. He played in four of the five games, starting three with a goal in a 2-1 loss to Costa Rica.
“I think overall the time that I played it went well for me,” said Alashe, who has also appeared in international matches April 22 vs. Mexico in Carson, Calf.; March 31 in Copenhagen, Denmark; and March 27 in Bosnia 27 (scoring a goal).
“It’s definitely a little bit different,” Alashe said of his international role. “With the Quakes I play a holder-mid (fielder), it’s more of a sit role. You definitely have a little more freedom playing on the national team. I think it’s something that obviously is different, but I still enjoy playing different roles. You’re able to expand your game a little bit and see what you can do attacking-wise, where as here (San Jose) you don’t really do that as much.”
Alashe has adjusted quickly to the MLS style of play and the lifestyle of being a full-time professional.
“Obviously one of the biggest things is that it’s a much faster-paced game,” Alashe said. “The training habits are a lot different. It’s your job and everything revolves around soccer. There’s not school or anything else. It’s just soccer all the time. That’s something that’s unique and you have to eat right and get the right amount of sleep every night so you can train well, and give yourself a better opportunity to play. That’s definitely the biggest adjustment from college is the lifestyle around it.”
At MSU, Alashe appeared in 85 games scoring 14 goals and adding 15 assists. As a senior he helped the Spartans reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament while earning NSCAA All-American Second Team and All-Midwest Region honors.
He also comes from a soccer family. His brother Latif played four seasons at Michigan and has continued his career for FC Detroit of the National Premier Soccer League.
Alashe played club soccer for the Under-17 and Under-18 Vardar Academy teams where they captured the 2010 Development Academy championship. He was an All-Area, All-KLAA, All-District, All-Region and All-State player, both as a junior and senior, at Northville High.
But even though he had an accomplished club, prep and collegiate career, Alashe might be considered a late bloomer.
“People come up at different points,” Alashe said. “Kind of like my senior year in high school and then going into college I was able to pick up a little more while others sometimes they peak at 14, and stuff like that. It’s different for everyone. It’s tough to say later or early. I’d would say you kind of grow as a player when you go through different experiences and I think going to college definitely helped me out a little bit.”
Although the Quakes lost their US Open Cup round of 16 match Wednesday night at home against MLS rival LA Galaxy, 1-0, just three days earlier (June 27) San Jose defeated the same defending MLS champions, 3-1, in the California Clasico before 50,000 fans at Stanford University.
The Quakes normally play their home matches in the brand new Avaya Stadium, which seats 18,000.
“That was crazy and definitely really exciting,” Alashe said of the Clasico. “It was a packed stadium. Our fans are great out here, very passionate about the game, very passionate about the team. Obviously we got the result, which was big for us as well. It was definitely exciting game, a tough 90 minutes because obviously L.A. is a really good team and we were happy with the result.”
Coming off a 1-0 loss Sunday night at Portland, San Jose is 7-5-4 in the Western Conference of the MLS and stands in seventh place with 25 points.
“We’re playing well, I think,” Alashe said. “We’re starting to get used to each other. We’re starting to play together as a team. We’re picking up some results and we’ve got a tough stretch of games coming up in July. It’s going to be a big month for us and hopefully we can get a few wins out of it.”
And Alashe has taken a liking to his new soccer environment.
“The thing I like the most is probably the weather,” he said. “Coming from Michigan obviously, you have the tough winters and the really hot summers, whereas here it’s pretty mild throughout the year. It’s just a beautiful place. I’m really enjoying it so far. California is a nice state to live in, it’s a great team and a brand new stadium, so there’s not more that I can ask for.”