Roster deadline whirlwind lands Servando Carrasco in Houston with big ambitions
He traveled nearly 3,000 miles overnight with just a couple of hours notice, and now he's a four-hour flight from the place that only last week he called home. But Servando Carrasco quickly realized that while his club has changed, his task is exactly the same: help his teammates reach the playoffs.
Traded last Friday from the Seattle Sounders to the Dynamo, the midfielder took a late-night flight to Philadelphia and came on as a 72nd-minute substitute at PPL Park to help lock down a vital 1-0 victory.
Now he's hoping to contribute again on Saturday when Houston host Chivas USA at BBVA Compass Stadium with three important points on the line in the ultra-competitive Eastern Conference (7:30 p.m. CT; TICKETS). With only four MLS home fixtures remaining in the regular season, Carrasco knows there is no time to ease himself gently in to a new environment. Every match, every minute, matters.
Carrasco is aware that he needs to keep producing the form that encouraged the Dynamo to bring him in, along with a 2014 SuperDraft second-round pick, in exchange for Adam Moffat. Speaking after training on Thursday he seemed more than ready for the challenge.
"At first [the trade] was kind of a shock, to be completely honest with you. I had some time to think about it and we're in a very exciting time right now, we're pushing for a playoff spot and I couldn't really ask for much more than that," he said. "The team came off a huge win in Philadelphia and now we're just focused on picking up three more points against Chivas this weekend."
Carrasco woke up last Friday expecting to play that evening for Seattle against Real Salt Lake. Instead, he watched the match on television while he gathered his belongings.
"I had no idea. I had a text waiting for me in the morning to come to the office before our game; I was planning on playing against Real Salt Lake. And they just told me then and there. I got a phone call later from [head coach Dominic Kinnear] welcoming me to the club and [asking] if I could get on the next flight to Philadelphia. I flew out on the red eye, met the guys early in the morning and ended up playing a couple of minutes against Philadelphia.
"It was strange, man. I was in my house packing up watching my old team play. It was mixed emotions but now I'm focusing on what's in front of me and that's the only thing on my mind."
Kinnear likes how the 25-year-old from San Diego took the sudden news in his stride. "He wanted to join the team right away, showed great enthusiasm," he said. "We wanted to add some quality to the squad and I think he showed that when he stepped on the field.
"Talking to the guys that know him and even talking to guys in San Jose that I know that have been around him and seen him, he's supposed to be a great person and a very ambitious player, he wants to do well. He looks on coming here as another chance to play and he's going to get those chances if he keeps performing the way he's been doing."
After making occasional appearances in his first two MLS seasons, Carrasco broke into Seattle's team on a more consistent basis this year, at one point starting 12 successive MLS games. "The more games you get the more comfortable you get, the more you learn about your position and the players around you," he said.
Carrasco expects to be used mainly in central midfield but can also play out wide. "I'm a guy who likes to win the ball in midfield and just play simple and when I can switch the point of attack and get the ball to guys like Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia and let them do their thing, that's the trademark soccer for Houston," he said.
One of the first calls he received when the news broke was from Dynamo striker Calen Carr. Both are University of California, Berkeley alumni and grew friendly a couple of years ago when Carr returned to Cal to train during the offseasons.
"I immediately called him, I just wanted to welcome him to the team and say we were happy to have him. It's never easy to make a big change, especially late in the season, but I think the guys are excited having him join the group and I think he can add a lot," said Carr.
"First and foremost he's a hard worker, he's a guy who's got a positive attitude, he covers a lot of ground, he's not afraid to tackle and I think that sort-of blue collar mentality fits in well with what we've established here, our team identity. Off the field he's a really nice guy, friendly, seems to have already made himself a part of the team just in a couple of days, actually, so I'm sure as time goes on he'll only get more comfortable."
Carrasco clearly shares a key trait with his new co-workers: ambition. "The guys have been playing all year to make the playoff spots, that's what we're here for, to make the playoffs and then make a run for the Cup. I knew I had to make that adjustment quickly and I did. Tribute to the guys and the coaching staff, they've been very welcoming since the moment that I got here. They made me feel right at home, so thanks to them," he said.
"You hear a lot from players that have played here and they've always said that it's a great locker room and I couldn't agree more. It's a team who've made it to the final in the past two years, who've won in 2006 and 2007, so it's a team with great tradition. I'm here to add to that."
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.