By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA – Former USF soccer star Ashani Fairclough is officially a pro after enduring one tough tryout with the Seattle Sounders FC.
The 20-year-old Jamaican center back signed with the MLS squad late in March, two months after the Sounders brought the undrafted rookie in for training camp.
“It was very beneficial and stressful. You never know what’s going on, you just go out and work hard every day,” Fairclough said during a phone interview from Seattle on Thursday night.
While veterans invitees came and went, Fairclough stuck with the team and helped Seattle win the Desert Diamond Cup preseason tournament with four consecutive wins. He credited encouragement he received from family and friends for getting him through the grueling process and said USF’s coaches prepared him well for the situation.
“The mentality you have at USF is really good. The coaches instill in us that we have to come out and work hard every single day,” he said. “That really helped over here because everyone has to go out and work and someone wants your job, so you can’t take a break.”
Fairclough recently made a brief visit to Tampa to thank his coaches and share some funny stories about the nerve-wracking path to signing his pro contract.
“To hear him tell the story of what it took for him to make it was incredible. He would see players get called into the office, and usually if you get called into the office you don’t see that player anymore,” USF head coach George Kiefer said. “He told a pretty funny story; at one of the meals they were eating in walked two center backs and actually a third center back, all with experience as pros. He got a call to go into the office and he said he stayed at the fruit bar a little longer because he thought it might be his last meal.”
Fairclough’s ability to embrace a tough experience is something he learned a lot about at USF. Kiefer and his staff teach players the act of staying positive in soccer and in life, which has paid off for a number of former USF stars during their journey to the pros.
“You can take any situation and look at it how you want to look at it. You always have the choice to look at it positively or negatively,” Kiefer said. “I think we try to empower them to always find a bright side in things and clearly I think that played a role in helping him just focus on the things he can control.”
Despite getting to a point college soccer players dream about, Fairclough is staying level-headed because “it all comes down to how you perform” from this point on.
“It’s a great feeling but that’s the thing that’s tricky. You can’t get comfortable,” he said. “You have to keep pressing hard to put in minutes and stay hungry for game time as a professional. You have to be hungry and keep working hard every day.”
Fairclough’s high skill level and age are appealing to the Sounders, and his strong mental approach will continue to be beneficial as Seattle looks to get its new signee some playing time.
“We think Ashani has good potential because he’s a very young player. He still has a big upside to him,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said in a team release. “Right now we have him here and we have an injury (to center back Patrick Ianni), but at some point he’s a player we might consider loaning out. We want to get him enough minutes between reserve games and (USL) games.”
No matter where Fairclough goes next Kiefer is proud to see another one of his own succeeding in soccer and beyond.
“The great part about Ashani is he’s 20 years old and already has his degree. He graduated in three and a half years. It’s a great story,” Kiefer said.