As the Seattle Sounders struggle to find their winning mojo, one player who can show the way is Mauro Rosales.
The former Argentinian national team member is a leader on and off the pitch. He’s a battler in the game — against Vancouver he was the most dangerous and one of the hardest working Sounders. His English fluency, world travels and easy-going personality make him a very likeable guy off the field.
“Mauro has been great,” said captain Kasey Keller. “Hes really fit in from day one. If he can stay healthy, hes going to be a good asset. He has control, he throws in a great cross. Hes a good, solid player who gets up and down the sidelines.”
As the Sounders prepare for the second half of the season, they will need Rosales to increase his presence and lead the team along with Keller. His willingness to win loose balls, fight for headers, hold the ball under pressure and create scoring opportunities for his teammates has been evident every time he has stepped on the field.
With Steve Zakuani and O’Brian White out with long-term injuries, and Fredy Montero suffering from a scoring slump, the attacking responsibilities are falling on Rosales. It doesn’t mean he has to score goals — although every little bit helps — but it does mean that the Argentinian has to be at the fulcrum of the attack.
This is nothing new for a player who has been trained to handle the immense pressure that comes with professional soccer in Argentina and in Europe. Since he was selected at age 15 by the Newell’s Old Boys academy, Rosales has had to perform every day of his soccer life. If he did not, he would have been replaced and ultimately sent home.
“He gives everything hes got,” observed Alan Hinton, Sounders color commentator and former head coach of the NASL Sounders. “Because hes been raised in a tough soccer environment in Argentina. If you dont do the job, you get yanked off the field.
“Hes a good pro. Its showing. His leadership is showing. Hes always looking for that little opportunity. Some of his quality feeds to players he deserves to get a little bit more reward by somebody scoring on the end of his good play.”
Rosales, 30, grew up in Villa Maria Cordoba, a modest town of 70,000 people in central Argentina. Like most Argentine boys, he grew up playing soccer on the streets with his friends. They played soccer all day long.
“In Argentina, if you want to have fun, you take a ball and go find somewhere to play,” Rosales said. “I always played with older boys. In that moment, it was to have fun, to meet some friends. Everything was perfect.”
As he showed promise, soccer became more serious. He joined the local youth teams. He was training all the time and living in a house with 10 players–including another future Argentine national team player, Maxi Rodriguez.
Scouts from Newell’s Old Boys, one of the top professional clubs in Argentina, held a tryout in Rosales’ home town. They took eight of the 10 players who had been living together.
“Soccer was my favorite sport,” Rosales said. “My dream was to become a professional, to live for football. When you are young, you dont think about the money. But when you get older, you know you can have a successful life. Thats what I choose and try to be successful for football.”
Rosales also had a back-up plan. He studied hard in high school and passed the highest exams — just in case.
At 15, Rosales made the Newell’s Old Boys academy and began to train with professionals. The academy team turned out to be extremely successful and the national team coaches started scouting the players. Two years later, Rosales got his first national team call-up to play for Argentina’s U-20 World Cup. Argentina won. At 18, Rosales made his first appearance for the Newell’s senior team in October 1999.
He remained with Newell’s until 2004, when he joined the Dutch giants Ajax. Meanwhile, he got 10 caps with the Argentina senior national team, playing in the Copa America and playing for the U-23 team that won the gold medal in 2004.
For Ajax, Rosales was on teams that twice captured the Dutch Cup and the Dutch Super Cup. He later went back to Argentina to play for powerhouse River Plate, helping to win the Argentine Clausura in 2008.
Thanks to a contractual misunderstanding with a Mexican club, Rosales ended up in Seattle this spring. He loves it here — he is living in West Seattle. But he said he had always wanted to come to America.
“I like this country,” he said. “Ive been here a couple of times with the national team and always wanted to come and play here and live and to know what it is about America. I made a good decision to come. Im enjoying it a lot.”
It’s now time for the Sounders to dig a little deeper, to work a little harder, he said, to make this season successful. And Rosales believes the current squad can go far into the playoffs as long as everyone stays focused and eliminates the little mistakes.
“You have to be strong in mind,” Rosales said. “Football is not always happiness. You have many obstacles to be successful. You have to be patient. If you work hard, youll get your prize.”
His teammates listen and respect his skill and his experience. They know he can help the Sounders.
“Mauro Rosales is definitely a great player,” said Osvaldo Alonso. “His talent is going to help the team.”
His presence is growing on the pitch. Against Vancouver, he worked hard all game both ways — firing in dangerous crosses and winning balls on the right flank. It paid off when he scored his first goal in the 81st minute to bring Seattle even.
“I had an amazing time because I scored in front of our people,” Rosales said. “This is what I enjoy the most.”