When rumors started to surface that Major League Soccer was considering an expansion club in Seattle, Nate Jaqua’s attention was piqued.
A Eugene, Ore., native, Jaqua has watched franchises pop up in 2005 when the league expanded with Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake, Toronto FC in 2007 and the reemergence of the San Jose Earthquakes in 2008. After journeying around the MLS and overseas, he can’t help but smile now as he pulls on the rave green Seattle Sounders FC jersey.
Jaqua has been a Northwesterner at heart his whole life. He grew up on a Eugene farm playing sports and loving the outdoors. His father Jon Jaqua played in the NFL with the Washington Redskins, but his career was cut short due to injuries, so young Nate was steered away from football. Since his older brother played soccer so much, he decided to follow his path.
He was a two-time Oregon State 4A Player of the Year and Parade All-American at South Eugene High School, winning the state title in 1998. He stayed local in college, playing for legendary coach Clive Charles at the University of Portland, where he earned West Coast Conference freshman of the year honors.
He was taken third overall in the 2002 MLS SuperDraft and his career kicked into high gear with the Chicago Fire. 92 games and 21 goals later, Toronto FC selected him in the expansion draft. Out of contract, Jaqua considered a plying his trade in Europe, but a trade to the west coast with the LA Galaxy changed his mind.
He was only with the Galaxy for brief stint before a mid-season trade to the Houston Dynamo, where he went on to win the MLS Cup in 2007. After that success, he went overseas and played 14 games for SCR Altach in Austria
“When I was growing up the MLS wasn’t around and I always wanted to play over there. I figured if I didn’t do it then, I would probably never do it,” Jaqua said of his venture to Austria. “The soccer was good and I enjoyed it over there, but ultimately, it’s nice to play in front of your family and friends.”
The opportunity to come play for Seattle and make another run at a title with the Dynamo prompted his return after only six months, finishing the 2008 season in Houston. That landed him in great position to join the Sounders FC and he was a perfect fit for the club, who selected the target forward in the expansion draft.
Now he is one of the leaders on a Sounders FC squad that has three wins in three exhibition games.
“From the get-go things have been great and they have run the organization top-class. That’s good to see,” said Jaqua, 27.
With a bevy of speed on the wings and in forward partner Fredy Montero, Jaqua is the perfect fit for Seattle’s attacking style.
“He can finish, he can create himself. If he drifts outside he will drag people out and that makes holes for people to run into,” Sounders FC Technical Director Chris Henderson said. “He’s great in the locker room and he works hard and I think that part of it is contagious.”
His early success alongside Montero has the club and those who have seen them play in the early-going optimistic about the potential of the expansion club.
“Good players find a way to get strengths from each other and those two seem to read each other well. It’s good to see these guys clicking together and knowing that when Freddie Ljungberg joins the team, who knows what that’s going to add,” Henderson said. “If you’re a defense looking at these three guys, who do you key up on? It’s great to have options like that.”
With young talent permeating the roster and all of the elements surrounding the Sounders FC set up for long-term success, Jaqua can’t help but beam at the possibilities.
“If we have a little bit of success and keep this group together I think we can build on that,” Jaqua said. “We have very high potential, the question will be whether we can live up to that.”
He will line up Friday night in Seattle’s last exhibition game in the California leg of their training camp against the San Jose Earthquakes at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. Kickoff is at 7 pm and we will have live blog coverage here at SoundersFC.com.