SJEarthquakes.com: Welcome back to the states! How does it feel to be back in San Jose?
Fatai Alashe: “It feels good. It's definitely nice to be back in this nice weather. I’m ready to get back to the team and get things going for the MLS season.”
SJEQ: You’ve spent the past week with the U.S. U-23’s in Tuzla and Denmark where you earned your first international cap and tallied your first goal. How important was it for you to have those experiences in your first camp?
FA: “It was good. It was a big confident booster for me to not only to play in my first international game but to score a goal as well was a big deal to me. It was definitely a moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Being able to play against a team like Denmark was a great. Obviously, they have some really good players, so playing against them was a chance for me to test myself against those guys. It was overall a good experience.”
SJEQ: How did you find out about being called to camp and what was your first reaction when hearing the news?
FA: “I got an email a couple Saturday’s ago before our game against the Fire. I got an email on my phone and the subject read 'U.S. Under-23 Camp' and I was like, ‘What could this be?’ I clicked on it and it just filled us in on information about the camp. When I read it I was pretty excited, because like I said, I’ve always wanted to play in an international game like that, so having that opportunity to play for my country was a huge experience for me and really exciting at the time.”
SJEQ: It was only a few hours later that you scored not only your first professional goal but the first-ever goal at Avaya Stadium. True or false: March 22 was the craziest 24 hours of your life.
FA: “(Laughing) It’s definitely up there with the craziest. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of anything crazier than that. It’s has to be up there, though.”
SJEQ: It’s easy to remember your game against Chicago, but it was the club’s road match in Seattle where you made your first career start. Take us through that match and what it felt like to be a part of such a big road victory.
FA: “That was a cool trip for me. Going into the game knowing that I was going to get my first start in such a great soccer environment in Seattle was big. It was definitely an interesting vibe before the game walking out to the field into this huge football stadium. It was a cool experience because it was something I hadn’t done yet in my career. Before the game in the locker room it was a different feel than any college game. I focused on what I had to do on the field, telling myself to stay simple. The game started a little rough for me with that first play with Dempsey, but I thought I did well to keep my focus and bounce back from that. If anything, it pushed me throughout the game to get the result.”
SJEQ: There aren’t too many rookies who get inserted into a starting lineup and relish the opportunity like you have. What has been your mindset when you’ve stepped onto the pitch this season?
FA: “I just want to try and help the team any way I can. I try not to think about being a rookie as a disadvantage. I try to think of it more in a positive light. There’s a reason that I’m playing. I feel like I’ve proven that I could be out there when my name’s called, so that helps me have confidence in what I can do. I just want to contribute alongside some of the older guys that have been in this league for years, so I’ll listen to them, do what they tell me and do whatever helps the team.”
SJEQ: Since joining the Earthquakes, what has been the biggest thing you’ve learned at the professional level?
FA: “I would say the mentality is a lot different. There are the little things like the fast pace and stronger players, but that’s all expected coming into your rookie year. It’s different in the sense that every day is a fight at the professional level. It’s your job now to play this game, so you have to prepare yourself every way possible. Whether it’s what you’re eating or staying off your feet to prepare for the next day, you have to think about what’s best for you as a professional. It’s just so many different things that go into it that you don’t think about in college because you have so many other things going on in college, but here, it’s a lot more focused, which I’ve taken as a big positive.”
SJEQ: What does it mean to have Coach Kinnear, Steve Ralston and Ian Russell in your corner, three former field players who have enjoyed success in this league and know what it takes?
FA: “It’s definitely a big deal for me. I’d say wherever you go, it’s huge to have your coaches confidence in you, because you know whatever you do, whether you mess up or not, the coaches have you out there for a reason because they know you’ll fix it. While it’s been good at the start, there are a lot of things that I need to work on or fix. I’m just going to continue to learn from the coaches and from the older players and with that information help better my game.”
SJEQ: Have you been assigned any rookies duties so far this season?
FA: “The older guys are pretty nice. The one thing I get picked on a lot is what I wear into the locker room. They always have their standards. I’ve learned over the last couple of weeks, because I’ve come in the past couple of weeks where they just give it to me. All of them will start chiming in, but it’s funny. They do it just to mess with you. They do it to let me know that I’m a professional now, so I need to dress like one. In 5 v 2, it’s hard man. These guys are good. They try and go after you a little bit. Some of them will give you bad passes and if you take a bad touch, they’ll scream and yell for you to get in the middle. It’s all fun and games though.”
SJEQ: There’s been a big Spartan influence this year in the Bay Area with your success on the pitch and Draymond Green’s emergence on the hardwood. What’s in the water over there in East Lansing?
FA: “(Laughing) I don’t know. I think it’s the type of people that we recruit to our school. I remember when I was getting recruited, our coach would tell me that Michigan State doesn’t just recruit players based on how good they are, but it’s also about bringing in guys who are smart and can come in and learn the game. I think that’s the biggest thing when talking about a player that comes to Michigan State, guys like Draymond and even guys that haven’t moved on to those levels have grown so much from their time that they’ve gotten to school, so it’s just something that you carry on with you.”
SJEQ: The first month of the season is nearly in the books. What are you hoping to accomplish the rest of your rookie season?
FA: “At this point, I just take it one game at a time, one week at a time and one practice at a time. For me, I’m focused on getting back into the lineup after leaving for the international call up. Like I said, I will come to practice tomorrow, work hard and hopefully I can show something in the next couple days that will help give me the opportunity to play Sunday. From there, you’re focused on the day at hand and see how things play out. Obviously, I would like to continue to have opportunities to play, but like I said, whatever’s better for the team is what’s better for me.”