When Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid tells a player he is being released, he generally delivers the news one of two ways.
One is: You’re not able to help the team. The other: You’re not ready to help the team yet.
Not every player understands the difference.
“It’s a tough conversation because people – not just players – hear what they want to hear,” Schmid said. “They don’t necessarily hear what you’re saying. They filter it, or they just take in the information they want to take in. Everybody’s a little different.”
That second message – “not now,” rather than “not ever” – was what Schmid tried to communicate to midfielder Alex Caskey in 2011, when he was a third-round pick out of Davidson College in North Carolina.
Schmid said Caskey’s reaction was similar to that of former Sounder Lamar Neagle of Federal Way.
“It was, ‘How serious are you about being a soccer player? If you’re serious about it, right now this isn’t the place. But if you’re serious about it, you need to go play. And if you’re not serious about it, then go home and kick the ball around with your friends, go play PDL (Premier Development League) locally, have a good time, drink some beers after the game and have fun,’ Schmid said. “ And then it was really up to Alex after that point.”
The message stung. But Caskey knew he was serious.
“Like anybody whose dream it is to play in a top league, it was definitely hard to take at first,” he said. “I just had to try to commit myself to playing (at a lower level) and doing the best I could there so I could get better and eventually get back.”
Now, he’s back.
Returning this season to his second MLS training camp, Caskey made the team, made his MLS debut March 31 against San Jose, and notched his first start April 14 against Colorado.
But before his career could take those steps forward, he needed to take a step back from MLS and spend the 2011 season in the United Soccer Leagues.
Schmid’s assessment wasn’t what Caskey had wanted to hear, but Caskey didn’t disagree with the bottom-line conclusion that he wasn’t ready to make his mark in MLS.
“Especially from the highest first-team guys, I was definitely off the pace,” he said. “I recognized that. And while I was disappointed not to make it, I knew that if I kept working, there was another level I could reach and hopefully be back the next year.”
Caskey hooked on with the Charleston Battery of the USL first division. He recorded one goal and one assist. But the numbers that interested Schmid were these: 15 starts, 22 appearances, 1,299 minutes played.
“Players need to play at the best level of competition they can play at,” Schmid said. “That’s where they’re going to learn the most, that’s where they’re going to develop the most, and that’s what you try to let guys know. If you think they’re not good enough for here, then you’ve got to play games somewhere.”
Caskey brought that experience with him when he reported for his second Sounders training camp. He not only made the team, but he has been drawing increased playing time and making increased contributions.
Among those was his assist on the lone goal in Seattle’s win over the Rapids, as Zach Scott headed in a Caskey corner kick.
“That was extremely exciting,” Caskey said. “I found out later that that was Zach’s first goal, so it made me feel even better. And then, of course, it was great to get the win at home.”
Naturally, not all stories about released athletes have happy endings.
And sometimes Schmid has to deliver that news, too.
“Somebody said to me once, ‘You can be honest; you don’t have to be brutally honest,’” Schmid said. “So you try and let them know. It’s important to be honest, and you say, ‘This is what I see. This is what I see at the moment.’”
Sammy Ochoa scored two goals, with Cordell Cato and Andy Rose adding one each, as the Sounders beat Chivas USA in an MLS Reserve League match Monday. The reserves moved their record to 1-2-1. Their next match is June 1 when Vancouver visits Starfire Sports Stadium. The Sounders practiced with a short squad Tuesday as they began training for their league match Saturday at Chicago. The reserve players were given the day off, and several other players nursing injuries were limited. Among those were Michael Gspurning, Brad Evans, Marc Burch, Alvaro Fernandez and Patrick Ianni. Among that group, Schmid indicated that Fernandez might be least likely to be ready to go this weekend.