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April 17, 2014 at 4:23 PM

Eriq Zavaleta: ‘It’s been a journey trying to find out what position I was.’

I got to spent a few minutes on the phone this afternoon with Eriq Zavaleta, a second-year Sounder who will spend the 2014 season on loan with Chivas USA. Per MLS rules on intraleague loans, Zavaleta isn’t eligible to play against Seattle on Saturday.

He still has had a fine year following a transition to center back, where he has started the last four games. Here is a transcript of the interview:

*     *     *

(A lot of Sounders fans have been tracking your progress, and both you and the team look to be doing well. How would you say things are going for you?) “Yeah, I think it’s going well. With an unfortunate injury to Bobby (Burling) early, I was thrown into the lineup earlier than anticipated. There were some growing pains at first, but I’m starting to get more comfortable. I expect to be on the field, get my confidence and help the team succeed in any way that I can. Hopefully after this game, I can continue to do so.”

(You mention becoming a starter earlier than anticipated. How was your transition and what has it been like to be able to maintain that position and really become a regular for Chivas?) “I had been training with the team for three or four weeks, and at a new position, prior to being put into the lineup. An opportunity presented itself, and like with any chance you get in this league, you’ve got to take advantage. I was able to do so and I feel like I’ve earned a little bit of respect around the league that I can play this position and I can play in this league. I’m hoping now to not go back to where I was and build upon what I’ve already shown.”

(Coach Sigi Schmid mentioned where the loan options came up there was an NASL team interested, but when the Chivas opportunity came about, that’s where you wanted to go. Can you take me back to what you were weighing around that time?) “There were different options, a few different options, and one that was presented to me was an NASL option, but I also knew that there were teams that were interested in me in the league. Chivas was one of those. I saw it as an opportunity and that I belonged to stay in the league. I knew that I was going to be able to get a chance and I trusted myself that I could take that chance. It may have been more of a risk to stay in the league without guaranteed playing time, which maybe I would’ve gotten at the lower levels, but it’s worked out so far. I’m just going to make the most of what it is.”

(Obviously part of the move was moving back to defender from forward. How have you handled this positional change in was has seemingly been a longstanding issue about where your future lies?) “It’s been a journey trying to find out what position I was. I talked to so many people and so many coaches who have varying opinions. It was time, I felt, to make a decision for the long-term on what I wanted to do and where I felt was best for me. The opportunity came up to play center back at Chivas, and I’ve had success, especially at youth levels, at center back, so I felt I could step in and play that position. Though I got a few games last season with Seattle, I didn’t feel it was an extremely successful year for me. It was frustrating at times to not see the field and contribute to the team. But I also felt like it wasn’t a wasted year, and I learned a lot from the guys I played with and the talent that Seattle has. I got cleaner in things I needed to get cleaner in and got some experience. Now I’m taking that experience from last year to a whole new level in solidify myself as a regular in this league.”

(It seems like if you’re going to focus on developing as a center back that Carlos Bocanegra would be one of the great resources to learn from. How has that gone?) “Absolutely. I’m lucky to have played with and seen so many great center backs, and Carlos is the cream of the crop when it comes to that. He’s been there to guide me situations that maybe I couldn’t have gone through without him. He’s the voice, he’s experienced and he’s helped me in a lot in scenarios where I could’ve been exposed. It’s been great thus far, and to learn from a guy like that is the most you can ask for in the position I am of trying to relearn the position and do it at a level that isn’t just mediocre, but where I can help the team succeed.”

(Obviously there is a rule that prevents you from playing the Sounders. Do you think that would have been weird?) “Yeah, it’s a tough situation because loyalties lie on both sides. I’m totally committed to Chivas USA this year and helping the team win, but I also realize that I was with Seattle last year and my rights still lie there. I root for both teams at the end of the day when they’re not playing against each other, but I’m a competitive guy, and if I’m playing in a game, I’m playing to win the game. While it may have been a weird situation, I’m glad I don’t have to deal with it.”

(So as an entrenched member of Chivas USA, do you also still feel like a Sounder?) “Yeah. The fans — as everyone has said, you can’t say enough about them — throughout this whole experience, they still have been by my side and following my progress and rooting for me at a different club, and that just shows where their loyalty is. I feel like a Sounder, and at the end of the year, it is set that I’ll be coming back to the Sounders. When that time comes about, it’s full back to commitment with the Sounders. But right now, I’m with Chivas and committed to helping this team.”

(How much has it helped to have a familiar face like Mauro Rosales around, and how much has he meant to the team there?) “Mauro is a talented player, and he seems to have a chip on his shoulder this year. He’s working very hard. He’s taking the role of playmaker to a whole new level that I didn’t even see last year. It’s been nice to see. It’s been nice to have a guy like that. We have a lot of good leaders on this team, and we all know if there is change that needs to happen in the club, we want to be a part of the history of making that change. We want to be a team where Seattle doesn’t look on the schedule and says, ‘OK, this is a guaranteed win. Let’s think about the next game.’ We want to be a team that’s tough and will compete, and every week we’ve shown that and will show that.”

| More in Sounders FC, Stop and chats

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