No MLS player capitalized on 2011 more than the Houston Dynamo's Corey Ashe.
Mainly a reserve during his first four years in the league, Ashe managed to turn a spot start in Week 3 against dangerous New York Red Bulls winger Dane Richards into a permanent spot in the starting lineup and an eventual All-Star selection.
Now the challenge for Ashe is to prepare for his increased role and some heightened expectations in 2012.
“2011 doesn’t exist, because no one really remembers what you did in the past,” Ashe told MLSsoccer.com via phone last week. “I’m just trying to exceed mine, and others' expectations and try and work my way into a spot on the national team.”
Now Ashe – who is fully recovered from a minor offseason knee surgery – begins Houston's preseason camp on Jan. 23 expected to contribute in a starter’s role for the first time in his career.
With that comes an offseason focus on conditioning that will allow him to use his trademark speed on the flank for a full 90 minutes on a weekly basis. While preparing for a starter’s role has changed his offseason routine, he is doing similar work as past offseasons despite changing positions from midfield to defense.
Still, one element is new to Ashe’s game: leadership.
“It’s going to be my sixth year in the league and I think it’s time that when I’m called upon, I will need to step up and be a leader,” he said. “I want to lead by my actions and let the younger guys know, ‘this is the road you need to take and the expectations you need to meet.’ I want to give them a good example of what a good pro is and what this team is all about.”
Despite his eventful 2011, Ashe has made it a point to relax during his brief time off, spending time with his family and friends.
“It’s always good to hit the reset button and let your body heal so you can start fresh again,” Ashe said. “We’re hungry as a team that made it to the finals and lost; it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. [The start of preseason camp] is going to be right where we left off last season.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.