Nathan Sturgis can defend. He can also control the ball at his feet and distribute and play as an offensive threat.
If anyone should know that it’s Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid, who also coached him with the US U-20 National Team in 2005.
“Nate’s always been a good player. I had him on the Under-20 National Team in 2005 and he played for me as a central defender. He was part of a defense that shut out Argentina with Lionel Messi and Gago and Zabaleta and players like that,” Schmid said. “As he moved up levels, central midfield seemed to be his most comfortable position because technically he’s very good with the ball, he’s got two pretty good feet, he has the ability to open up the game with passing from there and at the same time his one-on-one defending and his ability to win headers can still play a very important role in that part of the field.”
Last year he did all of those things in varying roles for the Sounders FC. He started a stretch of games at left back. He played some as an outside midfielder. And he played some as a central defender, which is where he has spent most of his time in training camp in 2010 with Seattle.
“I just like to be on the ball more and to get forward more. I feel like there are parts to my game that I can’t really use when I play in the back because it’s a different mentality,” he said. “I like to play in the midfield because I feel like I can use more of my abilities there.”
That is where Sturgis’ versatility can be both a blessing and a curse. His ability to play a chameleon and step into any role keeps him from getting the specialized work at any one position that could ultimately lead to a long-term starting role. However, those capacities are part of what make Sturgis such an attractive player. He can fit into nearly every position on the field because of his diverse skill set.
This year, though, he seems to have established himself as a viable option in the central midfield with Seattle. In preseason he has spent most of his time there and has filled in quite nicely in the absence of regular starter Brad Evans, who is away with the US National Team for a game tonight against El Salvador.
His impact there has been palpable. Alongside Osvaldo Alonso and with Tyrone Marshall and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado playing center back behind him, the foursome have formed a solid defensive grouping in front of goalkeeper Kasey Keller. And that doesn’t even bring into conversation the two outside backs.
“I was playing there a lot toward then end of last year, so I feel comfortable there,” Sturgis said. “There’s definitely still things I’m learning and working, but I feel comfortable.”
One of his biggest obstacles last season wasn’t his comfort level, but rather his health. Troubled by niggling injuries throughout the season, Sturgis is now healthy and in good form as the Sounders build toward MLS First Kick March 25 against the Philadelphia Union at Qwest Field.
“The most important goal last year was to keep him healthy because he’d had some injury issues. Now it’s just a question of how much he can further himself on the field and run with that position,” Schmid said.
Now pushing for a starting role, Sturgis will get another chance to prove himself Thursday against SK Brann from Norway in the fifth place game of the La Manga Cup in La Manga Spain. Kickoff is scheduled for 3 pm local time (6 am in Seattle) and will be blogged live at SoundersFC.com.