Heading into MLS Cup 2012, Corey Ashe will get to stay at home. But it isn't the home that many expected it to be when he came into the league.
Ashe was drafted by the Houston Dynamo out of the University of North Carolina and expected to contribute at left midfield. But two years after a spot start to neutralize Dane Richards' speed, Ashe has matured into a standout at left back for Houston.
Unfortunately for Ashe and the Dynamo, he didn't get to show his stuff at left back in MLS Cup 2011, as a groin injury to Brad Davis forced the All-Star to fill in the midfield, and the rest is history.
A year later and Ashe, barring the unexpected, will line up at his new home and the LA Galaxy know that he can more than hold his own when he faces the reigning champions on Saturday (4:30 pm ET, ESPN, TeleFutura, TSN/RDS in Canada).
“Corey’s developed into one of the best left backs in Major League Soccer,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said during a league-wide conference call on Tuesday. “He’s physically strong and physically set to deal with any issues in his space and he’s good going forward. What I’ve seen out of Corey over the last two to three years is that he is now a lot more consistent.”
Ashe’s consistency has come from being a strong one-on-one defender and the passing presence he brings to the left side of Houston’s defense, skills which have been tested time and again.
“I’ve said, for me, he’s one of the better left backs in the league,” Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear said on the same conference call. “You look at his starts and minutes played and he’s played a ton. I thought we’ve had a good defense this year and he’s been a good part of that. He’s been consistently good.”
Kinnear and Arena both pointed to the 5-foot-7 Ashe’s ability to physically stand up to the physical tolls of MLS while also being able to get forward from deep position and create in unison with Davis.
While some may point to his size as a detriment, Arena was quick to point out that it isn't an indicator, or limitation, to success in soccer. One of the all-time greats is testament to that.
“One of the best left backs in the history of the game is Roberto Carlos," Arena remarked. "Size isn’t an issue at his position, especially with the kind of athleticism he has. He’s athletic, he jumps well. His size is not an issue.
The good news for Ashe and the Dynamo, and potentially bad news for Arena, is that this year he will be able to substantiate the two head coach’s claims as he tries to stop LA’s attack.
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.