HARRISON, N.J. —Niggling injuries have piled up in recent years. So too have the minutes away from the field for both club and country.
For Carlos Ascues, this season is all about trying to maintain full health and return to top form.
Ascues is currently in the midst of his second season in MLS and with Orlando City, and he is hoping to to use it as a way to get back to his best level again. The Peruvian has had sporadic participation on the field over the last two years, even early into this season, because of various frustrating knocks, and he is looking to make them a thing of the past once and for all.
“I’ve had too many injuries,” Ascues told SBI. “I had a quad tear, then I came back and suffered a tear again. I did preseason and I played a few friendlies and then I got hurt again. The first thing I want to do is to get healthy again, be back at 100 percent, recover my muscle mass and all of that. Little by little, I think I’ll improve from there.”
Ascues has already begun that process. After missing the first two games of the season, he returned to the field in mid-March and has played the full 90 in Orlando City’s last three matches. There has been some rust to shake off and fitness to regain, but Ascues has slowly started to rediscover his rhythm with consistent minutes.
Positionally, the 26-year-old Ascues has played in two different spots in those appearances. He was initially given the nod at centerback in the 3-1 loss to the Montreal Impact on March 16, but has played the last two matches against the New York Red Bulls and D.C. United in central midfield.
Ever the versatile player, Ascues’ career has been filled with questions regarding what his best position is. He has been used as a centerback, box-to-box midfielder, defensive midfielder, and even as an attacking midfielder. He might be capable of playing all over the rectangle, but his preference is to be in the heart of action more as a No. 8.
“Midfield is a position that I like more because you have a little more contact with the ball,” said Ascues. “I have no problem playing (in midfield or at the back), but if you made me choose, I like midfield more.”
“My game is about getting into the box,” Ascues added. “But I’m at the coach’s orders and I’ll do whatever they ask of me.”
Good thing for him then that Orlando City head coach James O’Connor sees Ascues better-suited for the center of the park, though O’Connor has used the 6-foot-2 player in more of a holding role during the past two weeks because of the “presence” Ascues provides.
“I think probably, for me, his best is probably midfield,” said O’Connor. “I think he’s very capable and he can play at the back, but I think I would see him as maybe a center midfield player. He can do the job as a 6. He can run as well. He can get forward.
“For us, the beauty with Carlos is he’s got discipline, so if we want him to play as a 6, he can do it. If we want him to play as an 8 or need him to play at the back, we feel that he can do that as well. We feel he brings good flexibility and a good mentality to the group.”
Ascues may currently be focused on continuing to get steady playing time with Orlando City, but he also has another goal in mind: returning to Peru’s national team. Ascues has not received a call-up from head coach Ricardo Gareca in more than three years (the veteran’s last appearance came on March 30, 2016) and he was told over offseason break by Peru’s technical staff that he has to push himself if he hopes to make it back into the picture.
He clearly had not done so last month due to his quad injury and lack of playing time, which, ironically enough, led him to have to watch Peru play Paraguay in a friendly in Harrison, New Jersey, while he was a mere few miles away in Hoboken with Orlando City ahead of its clash with the Red Bulls.
“Things are going really well for the national team,” said Ascues. “I was watching the game from my hotel room and they beat Paraguay. It’s a group that has become strong and I’ve had the chance to play with some of the guys, so you could say that, yeah, I do still feel part of the group.
“I have to keep working and improving because the fight to get on the national team is tough, so I have to work and challenge myself so that I can be called up.”
Ascues can only do that if he is playing games with Orlando City, so staying healthy is of the utmost importance. His last couple of years have been marred by injuries, but he is feeling good and seeing the field consistently again.
For Ascues, that alone is a win in of itself.
“Yeah obviously it’s been frustrating because you feel like you’re right there and then you have to stop and go and stop and go,” said Ascues. “You don’t understand what happens at times, but the with the support of my family and the support of the club and my teammates, I’ve been able to overcome that.”