A week ago, San Jose Earthquakes rookie midfielder Fatai Alashe was calmly preparing for the grand opening match at Avaya Stadium. The week before, Alashe had played admirably in his first MLS start, captaining the midfield for the Quakes in a 3-2 victory at the Seattle Sounders. Such was his effectiveness as a defensive midfielder that he received an unexpected call-up to the U-23 U.S. men's national team for a week-long training camp to be held in Europe.
"I wouldn't say it was really a surprise," said Alashe about the news of his first call-up at any level of U.S. Soccer, "more just excitement. I was ready to go. I've always wanted to get called into the national team, and now I have the opportunity to go and see what I can do with it. Whenever it comes, you have to take advantage of it, and that's what I'll try to do."
And that was only the beginning of what would be a very eventual week that started with him opening the 15th soccer specific stadium in MLS.
"I keep a level head," said Alashe. "I try not to get too wrapped up in stuff like that. I was definitely excited about the national team call-up, but I had to stay focused on the task at hand, playing 90 minutes here and getting a win against Chicago."
On Sunday, in front of a sell-out crowd and a national television audience watching on Fox Sports, Alashe scored the first-ever goal at Avaya Stadium, a 5th minute header that staked the Quakes to a 1-0 lead over the visiting Chicago Fire en route to a 2-1 victory. The goal impressive and was nominated for MLS Goal of the Week, though ultimately it did not win that honor. It marked the rookie's first professional goal in just his third appearance.
"It felt good" said Alashe of his performance against the Fire. "I'm building confidence as we go along here, but at the same time, I know I have a lot to learn and a long way to go. I don't really let that go to my head. I try to stay focused and let the path play itself out. I'll keep working hard in training as much as possible . It's a process where you are constantly growing."
Within 12 hours of the conclusion of the match against Chicago, Alashe was boarding a flight at SFO, destined for Bosnia and Herzegovina and a week with the U-23 national team training camp. He wouldn't arrive in Europe until early Tuesday morning, but that didn't prevent him from immediately joining in with the other 2016 Olympics team hopefuls looking to cement their place in coach Andi Herzog's roster.
Alashe did not make the starting line-up for the U-23's first match of the week, a friendly against the Bosnia and Herzegovina U-23 squad, but he did enter Friday's match as a second half substitute. Then, in the 87th minute, Alashe scored an insurance goal, heading in a corner kick to increase his side's advantage to 5-2 in a match that would end with the same score.
That the method by which he scored his first international goal mirrored that of his first professional goal seemed fitting; Alashe has worked hard for these moments, going back to his youth soccer days and onward into the years spent in the Michigan State University soccer program.
"In college, I knew I wanted to play professionally in the MLS," said Alashe, "but obviously you don't imagine it going this well. I've had a good couple of weeks."
He will have one more game with the U-23s during their European training camp -- a March 31st meeting with Denmark's U-23 team in Copenhagen -- before returning to San Jose and reuniting with the Earthquakes. From there, it will be back to the rookie grind: training hard and making it hard for Quakes head coach Dominic Kinnear to keep him out of the line-up.
But Alashe knows that one incredible week will not mean that he has arrived, that he can take his foot off the gas and relish in his accomplishments. The rookie has bigger plans, and the path to reach those goals will always be there in front of him.
"You can have great weeks, you can have bad weeks, so you have to keep a level head no matter how things are," said Alashe. "Don't get too high about highs, don't get too low about lows, just keep working hard, and that will take you where you need to go."
Video Highlights of U-23 MNT 5-2 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina