What proved to be the most pivotal play in the Sounders FC’s 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire on Saturday revolved around a quick change of direction and intention for Nathan Sturgis.
After a Seattle attack into the Chicago box, Chicago cleared the ball to the sideline near the Sounders bench. James Riley hustled over to take the throw in while Sturgis gave him a quick target. Riley tossed in to an unmarked Sturgis, then stepped up the right sideline, drawing the attention of Chicago’s John Thorrington away from Sturgis.
In that time, Sturgis spotted Fredy Montero at the far post, along a line of seven players just outside the six-yard box. With Nate Jaqua occupying two defenders at the near post and Steve Zakuani pulling in two more in the middle, Montero was left uncovered.
The extra time provided by Riley’s move up the line allowed Sturgis to switch the ball to his left foot, which meant the ball would bend toward the goal, rather than away from it if he had stayed on his stronger foot.
“James threw it in and there was a guy coming and he went with James down the line. I just cut back to my left foot and wanted to hit it with my left so that it would swing toward the goal,” Sturgis said. “I turned and was open and just tried to get a good ball in that would get over the defense and would be swinging toward the goal. Montero did a good job of reading the flight of the ball and peeling off to the back post.”
With pinpoint accuracy, Sturgis’ pass got to the far post where only Montero could get to it. Montero then hammered a determined header inside the near post, giving goalkeeper Sean Johnson no chance to make the crucial save. For his part, Montero was named MLS Player Of The Week.
The stoppage time winner moved Seattle to 9-8-5, extending their MLS unbeaten streak to seven matches.
“It was a really big win and it was exciting to win at the end. We’ve taken some late goals this year and that’s been disappointing so it feels good to be on that end of it,” Sturgis said. “The three points at home is huge for us and something that we need to push for the playoffs.”
Sounders FC analyst and former winger in the top tier in England Alan Hinton swung in several crosses in his playing days and was highly complimentary of Sturgis after the match, particularly given the circumstances of the play.
“Everybody was thinking that a tie wouldn’t be the end of the world. Their coach put the shutters up and was happy with a tie on the road. Sturgis was thinking other things and was going for the victory,” Hinton said. “It was a great ball. Great balls like that don’t always produce goals, but this one did so that means it’s even greater. He’ll never forget that. It was wonderful.”
Hinton went on to compare Sturgis, in this match, to Paul Scholes of Manchester United because of his ability to pinpoint long passes at several moments in the match.
Sturgis and the Sounders FC host Chivas USA in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup semifinal Wednesday night at Starfire. The match is sold out, but can be viewed online at SoundersFC.com.