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Originally published Thursday, February 2, 2012 at 8:13 PM

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Sounders' Servando Carrasco facing second-season challenge

Carrasco was the Sounders' top rookie in 2011, but the midfielder knows that doesn't guarantee anything in Year 2.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Servando Carrasco was clearly Sounders FC's top rookie last year.

The gritty midfielder started in seven of his 12 MLS appearances and showed no signs of intimidation in his debut season as a professional.

But despite a productive start to his career, Carrasco found himself grouped with invitees, reserves and 2012 draft picks — not the first-teamers and veterans — at the start of preseason training a couple weeks ago. It was a reminder that his place on the team was far from guaranteed.

"It was completely fine with me," said the 23-year-old. "I've just got to come in and work."

Putting in the work won't be an issue. The University of California product worked out about five times a week in the offseason to adhere to his fitness regimen.

Coach Sigi Schmid is hopeful that Carrasco maintains that drive.

"Sometimes when guys come out and make it in their first year, they sort of think back to their college days: 'If I make the team as a freshman and played some minutes, I'll be there as a sophomore and junior,' " said Schmid.

"But in the pros that's certainly not the case. After Year 1 you might not be there in Year 2. (Preseason) is reminder to them that they're still competing; they're still fighting for a spot."

The main obstacle to Carrasco having a bigger impact in his second year could be out of his control. As a defensive midfielder, he is playing behind one of the best in the league in Osvaldo Alonso, an MLS All-Star last season and a two-time team MVP.

Schmid played the two side-by-side a couple times in 2011, but has indicated that likely won't continue due to their similar styles. Carrasco played limited minutes as a wide midfielder in those instances, but playing deeper in a more defensive position better suits his vision and cross-field passing.

Schmid also wants to see quicker and improved decision-making from Carrasco, both with the ball and defensively.

"That all comes through maturity," the coach said.

Carrasco's path off the field has already forced him to grow up quickly. He lived in Tijuana, Mexico, for parts of his childhood and had to cross the border daily to go to school and play soccer. His mother, Gloria, is a two-time survivor of cancer and learned in November that the breast cancer she was diagnosed with in 2006 was gone.

"That was the best news we could hope for," Carrasco said. "It was probably the best holiday season we've had in a while."

He's hoping to follow that up with his best MLS season.

Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or jmayers@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @joshuamayers

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