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Originally published March 25, 2014 at 6:32 PM | Page modified March 26, 2014 at 12:28 PM

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Michael Azira is impressing the Sounders with his steady play

Sounders’ newcomer proved in his debut that he has the game to stay at the MLS level


Seattle Times staff reporter

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Michael Azira’s debut for Sounders FC wasn’t particularly showy or exciting.

Coming off the bench in the 2-0 victory Sunday at Montreal, he didn’t make a goal-saving tackle or dazzle on the attack. Instead, playing as a right-side midfielder, not one of his preferred positions, Azira contributed with several little plays that helped Seattle preserve the lead.

He defended tightly. He connected passes and limited turnovers. He won fouls and throw-ins to help waste time. He covered, when needed, for attacking right back DeAndre Yedlin.

It wasn’t exactly 24 minutes of stuffing stats on a box score, but it didn’t go unnoticed.

“I think the fans could see why we signed him,” coach Sigi Schmid said of Azira’s debut. “He’s just not overwhelmed by the situation. ... He was really good and steady.”

Steady. It’s the word Schmid often has used to describe the 26-year-old Ugandan, who won a spot on the roster as an invitee in preseason training camp.

Versatility was crucial in Azira making the team, being able to play both attacking and defensive roles in midfield and also as an outside back on defense. He also left a good impression with the team at the end of 2013, scoring as a guest player with the Sounders’ reserve team in a 4-1 victory against rival Portland.

“There is a not a lot of flash or things to his game that way, but when you analyze his game, there are a lot of good nuts-and-bolts things that he does on the field,” Schmid said. “He’s just a good team person.”

Azira is the latest in a long line of connections between the Sounders and the Charleston Battery of the third-tier USL PRO (Osvaldo Alonso and Lamar Neagle are others who played for Charleston before Seattle). When the Battery won the league championship in 2012, it was Azira who scored the winning goal.

That won’t likely be his role with the Sounders, of course, but Azira doesn’t mind doing the behind-the-scenes work.

“I’m a quiet guy; I don’t want to beat the drum for myself,” he said last week.

“To be signed here is like a dream come true. It’s an opportunity to learn as much as I can and see what I can contribute — and it’s been a good experience so far.”

Neagle gets goal

A Sounders goal initially ruled an own goal Sunday has been retroactively credited to Lamar Neagle. The Federal Way product headed an eighth-minute free kick off the goal frame, where it then bounced backward and ricocheted off Impact goalkeeper Troy Perkins and in.

MLS rules state the goal should be awarded to the attacker in such circumstances, which the league corrected.

Sounders newcomer Gonzalo Pineda, who was making his first MLS start, gets an assist on the play. Neagle also had a secondary assist retroactively credited to him after a Week 2 defeat against Toronto.

NOTES

• Reign FC has had four players called up by the U.S. national team for exhibitions April 6 and April 10 against China — goalkeeper Hope Solo, forward Sydney Leroux, midfielder Megan Rapinoe and defender Stephanie Cox. The group is expected to be back and available for Seattle’s April 13 season opener at home against Boston at Memorial Stadium.

• Tickets are on sale for Sounders FC’s July 19 friendly against Tottenham of the English Premier League.

• The Sounders will honor old NASL defender Mike England on Saturday as part of the franchise’s 40th anniversary celebration.

Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184

or jmayers@seattletimes.com



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