Nathan Sturgis never thought playing for the Sounders FC was going to be easy. After being selected in the expansion draft, he sized up the lineup and knew that he would need to work for all the playing time he could get. Add to that a series of injuries that have plagued the 21-year-old defender and he had quite the mountain to climb.
Now in the starting lineup for two straight games, he has earned his keep against some of the best the MLS has to offer, but he still battles each day to keep that starting role.
“Coming in you just expect to fight for a spot. Obviously you want to start every week, but it’s definitely something you can’t take for granted,” said Sturgis, who was limited to three games for Real Salt Lake last year because of injuries and duties with the US U-23 National Team that qualified for the Olympics. “You have to work hard in practice and play well on the weekends to keep your spot.”
It looked like his injury woes were behind him when training camp started and Sturgis nearly earned a starting spot right away, but it took him some time to get healthy and fit enough for the starting XI. Helped by his versatility, he was able to see plenty of action in reserve games while he built his fitness, but once he was ready, left back was the natural fit for him in the lineup.
“Where he helps us is he’s pretty good technically with the ball,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “He’s a good passer out of the back. He’s usually pretty composed, and that helps us as we build.”
Once in the lineup, he was thrown right into the fire. First, he squared off with the speedy and creative Arturo Alvarez against Real Salt Lake in a 2-0 win, then he had to contain the flurry of players the Chicago Fire threw his way, including Cuauhtemoc Blanco, in a 1-1 draw last week.
“He had a lot to deal with last week,” Schmid said. “I think as a player the more experiences like that that you can put into your backpack, the better you become, and the better you deal with those situations the next time.”
Sturgis is not intimidated by the players he has to face up against on a weekly basis though.
“There are dangerous players on every team. So you’ll have a tough matchup pretty much every week,” he said.
This week, the challenge will come from the LA Galaxy, for whom he started his MLS career after two seasons with Clemson University. He played parts of two seasons with the Galaxy before a trade to Real Salt Lake, but he doesn’t look to that as a motivating factor this week. His effort will remain steady regardless of the opponent.
“It’s good to be playing again. That’s definitely a big thing for me. I’ve struggled with injuries in the past so just staying healthy has been a big thing for me,” said Sturgis, “I still have to fight for it every week. So I’m still working on that.”
Kickoff is set for noon at Qwest Field against the Galaxy.