Special to The Seattle Times
SEATTLE - Ali John Utush and the Seattle Sounder defense are big reasons the A-League team is in the thick of the Pacific Division playoff chase.
The Nicaraguan-born and California-raised Utush helps the defense click as the Sounders' anchor on the back line at sweeper. The defense has allowed just 19 goals in 17 games.
The 1.12 goals-against average stands out for Utush, who's likely to get a permanent call-up to Major League Soccer soon. But for Utush, whose brother, Rashid, was released by the Sounders on July 6, his success comes at a bittersweet time.
Utush, at 22 the oldest of four soccer-playing brothers, can't help but think of Rashid as they pursue their soccer goals.
"I'm glad we had the chance to play together, but I knew it wouldn't last long," Ali John said.. "He's got big dreams and he's really good for his age (20), so I figured he wouldn't stay here long. He was planning on, at the most, a year in the A-League. Him leaving was just the realization that this was the last time we'd probably play together."
Rashid is back in Europe, playing for second-division N.E.C. in Holland. Ali John, meanwhile, might be on his way to the MLS.
Sounder Coach Neil Megson has received inquiries about the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Ali John from the Dallas Burn of the MLS as well as Colorado.
"If he and the team mutually agreed to signing a contract, we wouldn't stand in their way," Megson said. "I think he'll stay with us for the rest of the season, because I don't think he's willing to sign a rookie contract with an MLS team. The rookie deal doesn't offer a lot more money than he makes here, and . . . it would tie him down for too much time. But I think he'd move along if he were offered the right deal."
Utush has his wife, Leslie, and 4-year-old daughter, Aliyah, to support, so the lure of MLS is strong, but the league's minimum salary isn't enough to support a family.
"I can't raise a family on $24,500 before taxes," Utush said. "MLS is the highest level of soccer in the U.S. to go to, and I've always tried to reach it. But they own you for four or five years and they don't allow you to have another full-time job like the A-League does. To have a minimum wage like that in this day and age is ridiculous. It's disheartening."
The Utush brothers signed with the Sounders at the same time after both were let go from MLS camps early in 2000 - Ali John from Los Angeles and Rashid from San Jose.
Ali John "worked out here, his brother didn't," Megson said. "His brother wanted more time, but I said, `I can't give you more time, so I'll have to let you go.' "
Ali John has fit in well, teaming with Craig Waibel and Kieran Barton on the Sounders' back line of defense.
"I heard good things about him and took a chance on him," Megson said. "He's quite similar to the other two back-line players. They're all three defensively sound, so that helps us. With just three at the back, it helps us push forward and be more aggressive on offense. That's one of the reasons we've had such a successful season."
Utush, who graduated from St. Mary's in Moraga, Calif., with a degree in communications in 1998, lives in Roseville, Calif., where he graduated from Oakmont High in '95. While playing at St. Mary's, he was named West Coast Conference Defender of the Year as a senior.
Utush, who played five games for San Francisco (now Bay Area Seals) in 1999, was released by the MLS Los Angeles Galaxy just before the season started.
"I'm just trying to stick it to the MLS teams as much as I can," Utush said. "I can do that by helping the Sounders win the A-League and getting some honors. Again, he's just a step away from the highest level of pro soccer in the United States. He won't take that next step unless the right offer comes his way.
"I would be surprised if he doesn't get a chance in the MLS."
-- The Sounder Select women's team will make its home-field debut at 4 p.m. Saturday, July 29 at Memorial Stadium. The Selects are 4-0-1 heading into tomorrow's final road game in Vancouver.
-- Defender Tim Steidten, who arrived on July 13 from the Sounders' German Bundesliga affiliate Werder Bremen, could see his first action in a Seattle uniform tonight in Vancouver. Steidten, 21, was available for Saturday's 2-0 win over U.S. Pro-40 Select, but didn't play after warming up on the sideline briefly. Steidten is the second Werder Bremen player to join the Sounders, following midfielder Alexander Nouri last year.
-- Sounder forward Craig Tomlinson underwent successful surgery on July 13 to repair a slightly torn lateral meniscus ligament in his left knee. He could be back in the lineup in less than three weeks.
-- Renton native Erik Storkson re-injured his left ankle in last Saturday's 2-0 win over U.S. Pro-40 Select and could miss two more weeks. Storkson, a fifth-year pro, missed eight games after suffering a severely sprained ankle in a 2-1 loss to Los Angeles on June 14.
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