Houston Dynamo's Corey Ashe focused on Sunday's match vs. Sporting KC before heading to USMNT camp
The coming week is shaping up to be special for the defender. First, the Dynamo visit Sporting Kansas City on Sunday (2.30pm, NBCSN) for one of the biggest games so far this season. Then Ashe will join up with Jurgen Klinsmann's squad.
The 27-year-old was added to the training camp roster on Thursday and is eligible for the friendly game against Belgium on May 29 in Cleveland, Ohio. He will return to Houston for the June 1 MLS game away to the Columbus Crew
"The hard work has paid off. I'm looking forward to going to the camp. First things first: take care of business against Kansas City and worry about the national team call up later. But I'm just excited," said Ashe.
THIS WEEK: Sporting KC
The Virginia native has spent his entire professional career with the Dynamo, making his debut in the MLS Cup-winning 2007 campaign. In 2011, the speedy midfielder found his opportunities limited but head coach Dominic Kinnear had an inspired idea: move him to left back.
"I had countless meetings with Dom and it was kind of, 'how are we going to get you on the field?'" said Ashe. "[Midfielder Brad Davis is] a great player you need on the field. So it was, where do I fit in the equation? There was an experiment... and fortunately it worked out."
Ashe has had to wait for his first call-up to the senior ranks, considering that he was U.S. co-captain at the 2003 under-17 World Cup and also featured for the under-23s at a youth tournament in Toulon, France, in 2008.
"It's been a while but I think the transition to left back has definitely helped. I don't think I'd have made it, probably, as a midfielder, so I'm just grateful to get the call up," he said.
He's hoping to soak up some knowledge from the experience, even if he does not get on the field to face high-profile opponents such as Eden Hazard and Vincent Kompany.
"Just to learn as much as possible. There's a lot of European players. Just to pick their brains about soccer in general, to learn as much as I can from Jurgen, who's obviously a legend himself. I'm excited, I know a lot of the guys there so it'll be a good reunion. Hopefully I get to play against Belgium, if not I can sit back, watch and take in stuff."
Ashe was first selected at left back in a 1-1 draw against the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena in April 2011.
"I think I'm still developing, I'm nowhere where I think I need to be but it shows progress. I'm fortunate that Dom has given me a chance to play left back, and just try to learn the position as quick as possible," he said.
"A lot of credit goes to the guys I play with - Bobby Boswell, Jermaine Taylor, Brad, guys in the midfield, Adam Moffat. That made me into the player that I am. I can't take all of the credit, those guys helped me a lot and they help me become better each day."
Ashe is one of three Dynamo players on Klinsmann's 31-man roster, along with Davis and goalkeeper Tally Hall. No other club has more than two representatives. And two England-based players, Geoff Cameron and Stuart Holden, are Dynamo alumni.
"It says a lot about Dom and how he takes players and transforms them into internationals," Ashe said. The Houston head coach returned the compliment.
"I'm really happy for him, I think it's well deserved. For us that know him and watch him play maybe it's a long time coming but you're glad he's been rewarded for his good play and you hope that when he goes in there he does great, they invite him back and he becomes a regular in the camp, it'd be nice to see," said Kinnear.
"They're playing Belgium...It's a great up and coming country, one that in the next two to four years could make a big splash in the international scene and for Corey to be able to watch/play against those guys it can only be a learning experience."
Ashe started 30 regular-season games in each of 2011 and 2012 and has played the full 90 minutes in each of Houston's 12 MLS fixtures so far this year.
PREGAME SOUNDBYTES: Sporting KC
Kinnear admits he's surprised how quickly the attack-minded former University of North Carolina stand-out has adapted to his new role in the back four. "We just wanted to try and have Corey have a good game at left back," he said.
"There's always some experiments that go in good directions, his is one of those, but I wasn't exactly looking it and going 'well, if he plays well here he has a good chance of making the national team in two years'. I don't think anybody saw that coming, probably not even Corey. It just shows you his dedication to trying the position as well as he can and taking pride every time he steps out on the field."
Kinnear will have to reshuffle the center of his defense at Sporting Park because Boswell is suspended. Jamaica international Taylor is questionable with a shoulder injury suffered in last Saturday's 2-0 defeat to the New England Revolution
Not one to shirk a challenge, Ashe is prepared for a robust encounter as the Dynamo seek three points at the home of the club that ended Houston's MLS-record home unbeaten run two weeks ago.
"I think Sunday's game is going to be really heated. Just because they ended our streak," he said.
It's the first of a trio of MLS road fixtures for the Dynamo, who then travel to Columbus and Montreal. But after Sunday's game they return home to BBVA Compass Stadium for a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup third-round match against FC Tucson next Wednesday.
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian and SI.com.