Wilf Thorne/Houston Dynamo

Ashe finds groove in unfamiliar role

Corey Ashe was not always the smallest guy on his team. In fact, by age 11, Ashe had hit a growth spurt and was actually one of the tallest guys on the soccer field.

“It’s funny, because I remember being one of the tallest guys at the time, and it was great,” said the 5-foot-6 midfielder. “Then I turned 13, and everyone slowly started catching up to me, and they never looked back.”

While most players might use their size as an excuse, the speedy midfielder-turned-defender uses it as motivation.

“A lot of players underestimate me because of my size,” said Ashe. “I feel like I have a lot more to prove than the average person because I’m showing not only myself, but I’m showing a lot of kids that you don’t necessarily have to be the tallest guy to contribute on the team.”

Last Thursday, in the second leg of Houston’s Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Philadelphia Union, Ashe made his 100th career start for the Dynamo in all competitions. Although he does not like to keep track of his career numbers, he admits that becoming the 13th Dynamo player to reach 100 starts is a cool achievement.

“It just shows the trust that Dominic [Kinnear] and the rest of the staff have had in me ever since my rookie year,” he said. “They have confidence in me that I can get the job done.”

After the Dynamo drafted the North Carolina standout in the second round of the 2007 MLS SuperDraft, Ashe spent the first four years of his Houston tenure moving in and out of the starting lineup. He earned a lot of his starts in international and cup play due to the Dynamo's congested schedule. This past season, however, Ashe has found his niche, and it came in a role to which he was not previously accustomed. After starting the season rotating with Colin Clark and Danny Cruz at the right midfield position, Kinnear decided to experiment with his fleet-footed lefty on the defensive line.

“It’s been a whirlwind season, “ Ashe said. “I came in having expectations of playing in the right mid spot and battling Danny [Cruz] and Colin Clark and even maybe playing on the left. One day, Dom calls me into his office and tells me [left back] is where I am going to play [in the coming game] to nullify [New York Red Bulls winger] Dane Richards and make it hard for him. Sure enough, I went in there and I thought it was going to be temporary, but it turned out to be my new position.”

Although Richards scored a goal in the first meeting between the two clubs - running to the opposite side of the field from Ashe - Kinnear stuck with the experiment, and five months later does not regret his decision.

“To work his way into being a starter in this group of players means he is a determined player,” Kinnear said. “He is very open to change and is not afraid of it. He understands that the move [to left back] has helped him, and it has certainly helped the team.”

2011 has been an unforgettable year for Ashe. He has set career highs in games started (30) and minutes played (2,617) and in July was selected by Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe to the 2011 MLS All-Star team. Ashe went up against and held his own against Manchester United and their world-class right midfielder Nani.

“The All-Star Game selection came as a huge surprise, but it was a big honor, and I was definitely happy to be called up,” he said. “I think I have been so successful because of the guys around me. I definitely can’t take all the credit. Tally [Hall] is coming up with huge saves and is constantly giving me information. You have Geoff [Cameron], Bobby [Boswell], Andrew [Hainault], and Brad [Davis] who is having a heck of a year and that makes it a lot easier for me. The coaching staff has a lot of confidence in me even when I lack that confidence in myself. They tell me to go do what I do, and that is what I try to do each game.”

When Kinnear’s was told of Ashe’s 100th start, he smiled, proud of a player he has seen grow over the course of his five-year career.

“It means that you are healthy and you are always available for selection,” Kinnear said of reaching 100 career starts. “He has probably started over 30 games this year at left back, and most of the time [in his career] he has gone from right midfielder to left midfielder, so his durability and his versatility have been a plus. I think he has found himself to be a very good left back, and it’s a great accomplishment for him.”