SEATTLE – For Colorado Rapids midfielder Micheal Azira, his team’s Western Conference Championship opener against the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field on Tuesday (10 pm ET; FS1, TSN1, TSN3, RDS2) will see him waltz into familiar territory.
Azira played for the Sounders for two seasons before the Rapids made him the lone player selected in the 2015 MLS Waiver Draft. It was a move that ended up paying dividends for Colorado, as the 28-year-old Uganda national has become a key cog of the Rapids’ midfield in 2016.
After playing just 1,332 combined minutes in his two seasons with the Sounders, Azira played 2,503 minutes in 31 appearances and 28 starts for Colorado this year to establish himself as a consistent presence on an MLS Cup contender.
Speaking with MLSsoccer.com from the Rapids’ team hotel in downtown Seattle on Monday, Azira credited the move to Colorado as the catalyst for his breakout season.
“The transition has been good so far,” Azira said. “We’ve had a great season. I’ve played in a number of games and I’ve enjoyed every moment.
“I think I was disappointed that the [Sounders] let me go. Sometimes you think that you want to play for a team your entire career. But moving to Colorado, I think, was the best opportunity for me. I thank Seattle for what they did for me and my life. I’m thankful for that. But me moving to Colorado has been great. I’ve been given a chance to play and l’ve learned a lot.”
For Azira, his lack of playing time in Seattle was less about ability and more about the Sounders having a crowded midfield. His skillset as a strong defender and passer made him an ideal understudy for Seattle linchpin Osvaldo Alonso – not exactly a player who is easily supplanted.
Asked about his former pupil’s positive attributes on Monday, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer pointed to his demeanor and professionalism.
“He’s a great human being, really nice person,” Schmetzer said. “He’s a good soccer player, a dedicated soccer player. We never had any issues with him. He always did what we asked him to do. Just all-around, really a good human being.”
Azira’s focus is now on helping the Rapids thwart his former running mates. In a series that pits a Colorado defense that conceded the fewest goals in MLS against a Sounders attack that includes playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro and speedy rookie striker Jordan Morris, Azira's defending prowess could prove crucial.
“You always need to be positive in everything,” he said. “We can’t have negative thoughts in our heads. If we want positive results we can’t have negative thoughts in our heads. I just try to stay focused and look on the bright side all the time.
“No matter what happens, I just keep on moving.”