SEATTLE - Last season, Taylor Graham was about as popular as a non-playing player can be.
He provided a familiar link from the old Seattle Sounders to expansion Sounders FC. He cheerfully showed up at public appearances.
His dependably thoughtful answers made him a go-to guy for media interviews. He served as translator for some Spanish-speaking teammates. And he even wore his rave green jersey while representing his club on “The Price is Right.”
The one thing Graham didn’t do much was play soccer.
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Due to a pair of foot injuries, his 2009 appearances were limited to one U.S. Open Cup match, a friendly against F.C. Barcelona, and a pair of reserve games.
Graham wants 2010 to be different.
“I’m a soccer player,” he said. “That’s what my job title is, and I’m here to play soccer. And as much as I tried to make myself an asset to the team off the pitch last year – that was the only capacity in which I could contribute – (now) I want to be on the pitch. … I’m a competitor. I want to be pushing the guys in front of me, and I want to be pushing the coaches and proving that I still have a lot to contribute in every capacity: still in the community, still in the locker room, but on the pitch as well.”
One week into preseason training, signs are encouraging.
After breaking separate bones in his right foot in separate incidents last season, Graham said he feels close to 100 percent – physically, at least.
“I’m still upright,” he said. “That’s my first goal: to stay healthy. … But every time you come back from an injury, some of it’s mental. It was good I had like the last three weeks of the season last year to ease back into training. ... At least I ended running with the guys and kicking the ball. It kind of pushed me into the offseason with a huge sense of motivation and pretty hungry. And here we are.”
On Friday, the Sounders held their first 11-on-11, full-field scrimmage. And when it was over, Graham was the first player coach Sigi Schmid mentioned in his post-practice assessment.
“A couple of guys are coming off injuries – like Taylor Graham – I thought had a good scrimmage today, did very well defensively,” Schmid said. “I was happy with the young guys. I thought (No. 1 draft pick David) Estrada was good and busy and active and kept possession for his team, which is what we were looking for. So, I was pleased.”
When healthy, Graham already has proven his ability to contribute on the professional level. He played a pair of games as an MLS rookie in 2003 after being drafted 33rd overall by Kansas City. From 2004 to 2008, he played in 34 more MLS games, was selected USL-1 defender of the year and was named to the All-USL first team twice.
About this time last year he signed with the Sounders.
But before this season is halfway through, he’ll turn 30. And he knows the implications of that as well as anyone.
“As soon as you start opening the pages to that chapter, then you’re taking a step away from the one you’re currently in,” Graham said. “I’ll be honest: I’m trying to be pragmatic and think about what I’m going to be doing post-soccer, because I’m a realist in knowing that this is a finite period of time. But I’m not addressing that with anybody else besides myself and my family.”
Second-round draft pick Michael Seamon of Villanova and free agent Tye Perdido of Gonzaga will return to school after this phase of training and then rejoin the club after completing classes in May. … Michael Fucito, the club’s 2009 fourth-round draft pick, was the fastest Sounder in fitness tests conducted Wednesday and Thursday.