Those wondering what the Sounders FC has been missing over the last three months of the season may have found their answer in the 13th minute of Seattle’s third round US Open Cup win over the Portland Timbers Wednesday night.
There, in the middle of the penalty box of the west goal at PGE Park stood Nate Jaqua, towering over his defenders but ready to pounce at any ball coming into the area. So when Sanna Nyassi crossed the ball into the middle of the box from the right side, it was a refreshing sight to see Jaqua head it past Steve Cronin for the game’s opening goal.
Jaqua added an ability to hold the ball in the attack and distribute from the striker position, adding some depth to the Sounders FC offense.
“Well, certainly sticking his head in and getting the first goal and just banging some bodies up there definitely helps,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “He’s a different type of forward than the guys we have and offers a different presence on the field.”
Coming off of a lower abdominal injury that cost him the first 13 matches of the regular season, Jaqua made his first start of the 2010 season, playing 62 minutes before giving way to Fredy Montero in the victory.
“I felt alright. I’m still getting my legs and still getting my fitness back,” said Jaqua, who notched 9 goals and 7 assists for the Sounders in 2009. “It’s fun being out there and mixing it up and playing. I need to keep working to get where I want to get. I’m not quite there yet. It was a good step in the right direction.”
Jaqua came off the bench in Seattle’s 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Union on Sunday, playing 18 minutes in the heat of PPL Park.
As the minutes increase, so does Jaqua’s comfort on the field.
“You can’t really get that in training. There’s a bit more fight and bite to it,” he said. “It’s good for me to be in this atmosphere I think.”
In training, a player may make a tackle, but the urgency and desperation that the competition and adrenaline of matchday brings will likely be lacking. In game situations, it’s a true test of how close Jaqua is to being ready to play 90 minutes at full strength.
“Some of it is taking those hits and still control the ball – especially holding up for a big guy up front. That’s one of the last things because you haven’t been hit,” said Jaqua. “I feel my touch is alright, but when you’re fighting and then have to bring balls down it gets difficult. It’s almost there.”
Jaqua and the Sounders FC face the LA Galaxy twice in a four-day stretch beginning Sunday with a league battle with LA at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. The second meeting will come at Starfire in the quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup on Wednesday night. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.