This article appeared in the April 17, 2010 issue of the Houston Dynamo Gameday Magazine.
When recounting the names of Dynamo players to appear in at least 100 games for the club, the veterans come to mind. Brian Mullan, Pat Onstad, Wade Barrett, Brian Ching. Joining the big names on the list, however, is a young gun: midfielder Corey Ashe.
Having just turned 24 years old but already in his fourth year as a professional, Ashe has appeared in 105 games for Houston – tied for 10th in club history – and became the youngest Dynamo player to reach 100 appearances when he did so last October.
But because he has appeared as a starter in less than half (47) of those appearances, Ashe’s milestone and contributions can sometimes be easy to overlook, something he hopes to change.
“I want to obviously get in the lineup, to be a regular in the lineup,” Ashe said. “I’m working hard trying to better myself and better the team.”
A naturally left-footed midfielder suited to playing on the flank, Ashe has come a long way as a professional since his days as a raw rookie drafted out of the University of North Carolina in 2007. At first, Ashe struggled to find playing time as he adjusted to the pace and skill of the professional game.
“When he came in, he was a fast person,” Dynamo defender Craig Waibel said. “Today he’s a soccer player. He’s developed the ability to read the game enough to know when to go inside to collect the ball, when to stay wide on the line, and he’s much better on his crossing abilities now and understanding what the role of the outside midfielder is.”
Ashe did not become a regular option off the bench for head coach Dominic Kinnear until late May of his first season, and he did not make his first MLS start until late August in 2007, but he has become one of the Dynamo’s most consistent performers in non-league and international competition, earning more MLS playing time in the process.
“When I first got here, it was just trying to get on the 18-man game-day roster,” Ashe said. “Now I’m kind of like a veteran. It is kind of scary, but I have more of a veteran role to help the young guys, and I’m called upon a lot more. I play 15-20 minutes of each game. Before it was, ‘I wonder if I’m getting in,’ and now I know I’m getting in, and it’s trying to provide that spark and help the team.”
In MLS play, Ashe’s career highlights so far have included a memorable three-assist game against Real Salt Lake in 2007, his first professional goal against FC Dallas in 2008, and a late-game assist on the road against the New York Red Bulls last year.
But his contributions have far outweighed even those efforts, as Ashe has often been a difference-maker in international and cup competitions. Whether against Municipal in the 2008 Champions’ Cup, Pachuca in the 2008 SuperLiga semifinals, Austin in the 2009 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, or Árabe Unido in the 2009 Champions League, Ashe’s speed and deception on the wing – and his surprising heading ability, at times – have often paid dividends for the Dynamo.
He even added right-wing capabilities to his arsenal after a 2008 call-up to the U.S. U-23 national team, something that has come in handy when injuries have sidelined Brian Mullan. The evolution from raw rookie to veteran influence, however, has mostly come from Ashe’s main competition: his teammates.
“My first touch wasn’t where it needed to be, and I needed to get that confidence that I deserve to be here, that I can contribute, and that I’m an MLS player,” Ashe said. “It was a big leap, obviously, because this team was champs. You’re coming into a competitive atmosphere, and you have to adjust really quickly – that’s to the speed and to meet the expectations that Dom and the rest of the staff have set.”
With standouts like Mullan, Brad Davis, and even close friend and roommate Geoff Cameron ahead of Ashe on the depth chart, starts have sometimes been hard to come by. Mullan, for one, appreciates the competition.
“He’s gotten exponentially better, and he’s a pain to play against in practice,” Mullan said. “He’d be starting almost anywhere else, but this team is a pretty established team.”
Ashe’s evolution as a professional has not been limited to soccer skills. He has also picked up on the Dynamo’s presence in the community, following the lead of teammates and professional athletes he grew up watching.
“I had heard of guys giving back to the community, and I definitely wanted to get involved, which is why I have,” Ashe said. “I’ve been fortunate to get to where I am, and I feel it’s important for a guy of my stature to give back to the community.”
Ashe’s efforts have ranged from the impromptu – he and two teammates famously helped push stranded motorists and their cars to safety during a flood in 2007 – to the more formal involvement he has in Dynamo Charities’ Soccer for Success program.
Announced last fall in partnership with the Houston Parks & Recreation Department and the Houston ISD, Soccer for Success is a free after-school program designed to give elementary and middle school students a constructive outlet for their afternoon hours.
“I think Corey’s done a good job at a young age to realize he has the ability to give back, and I think it’s awesome to see him get involved,” said Waibel, himself a two-time Dynamo Humanitarian of the Year. “I think Corey has adapted who he is as a professional based on what he’s seen in our locker room. I like to attribute that to guys like Brad Davis, myself, and Stuart Holden, who was here, and a lot of other guys that take time to give back. Corey has seen what we get out of it as people, and I think he wants to do the same.”
Ashe said he feels he is a perfect fit for the Soccer for Success program because of its third-to-eighth-grade target audience.
“Kids can relate to me (1) because I’m not that old and, I joke about it, but (2) it’s my size,” Ashe said. “For me, when I was growing up, to see guys like John Spencer or Richie Williams; they weren’t the tallest, but they had the biggest hearts, and they were really successful. I can help the kids, interact with them, and let them know that there are no limitations. You can go as far as you want to go, as long as you can believe, and that’s another reason I got involved with Soccer for Success.”
Ashe believes he still has plenty of room for improvement – he hopes to build on career highs of 13 MLS starts and five assists in all competitions last year, and Soccer for Success is still in its early stages – but he has fit in perfectly with the Dynamo. He has earned the right to be mentioned with Brad Davis, Eddie Robinson, Craig Waibel, and other Dynamo veterans not only for his spot on the appearances chart, but also for his skill, work ethic, and dedication to the Houston community.
For more information on Soccer for Success, click here.