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Returning To Form

Nate Jaqua and Brad Evans made their season debuts against the Houston Dynamo as the Sounders FC eases toward 100 percent.

They weren’t quite the Sounders that Adrian Hanauer, Chris Henderson and Sigi Schmid hoped to put on the field when they started training camp in January, but the lineup on Friday when the Sounders managed a 1-1 draw with the Hosuton Dynamo was pretty close.

Brad Evans made his 2011 debut, starting with Osvaldo Alonso in the central midfield, and Nate Jaqua did the same, coming off the bench for the final 29 minutes.

However, those leaps forward for the team were countered by the absences of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and James Riley on defense.  Hurtado, Schmid explained later, had a slight dip in form due to his recovery from knee surgery and the head coach opted to have him work through that slump in reserve games and training sessions.  Riley, meanwhile, suffered concussion symptoms the evening before and the morning of the match and was held out as a precaution.

That left the door open for Patrick Ianni and Zach Scott to make their season debuts, as well.

“I always say coming off an injury like that you have a period of time where everything is going well, then you slip off a little bit, you catch yourself again.  I just felt right now that he's in that area,” Schmid said.  “Ianni has been training well.  Houston is his old team so just like (Jeff) Parke last week, who had a very good game against New York ... you think that's going to give a little boost to his performance, and I thought he played well tonight.”

For Evans, it was his first MLS action since June 10 in a 3-2 loss to DC United.  Shortly after that match, he suffered a slight knee injury then another injury to the other knee.  He was nearly ready to return in the final games of the season, but he and the team took the precautious route and instead waited until he was 100 percent.  Then he suffered a hamstring strain in the final preseason game of 2011 and missed the season’s first two matches.

“I thought Evans played very well,” Schmid said.  “I thought that his size in the middle midfield helped us win some headers, win some tackles.  I thought he was good with the ball.”

He played 71 strong minutes in the midfield before giving way to Mauro Rosales, but the replacement was planned and not a result of any further injury.  Afterward he said he felt great for all 71 minutes he was on the field, never even taking a cautionary step along the way.

“It was great.  Period,” he laughed after the match.  “I felt good and they said they were going to limit my minutes, so that let me push a little bit harder because I knew I was going to come out at about 60 or 70 minutes.  It was great to be back out there and leave the field unscathed.”

The same could be said for Jaqua, who added size to the forward position to complement Fredy Montero.  He didn’t manage a shot in his 29 minutes, but was integral in an offense that finished with 26 shots on the match, seven of which came with Jaqua in the match.  Not only did Seattle net their only goal with Jaqua in, but Montero got all three of his shots on goal for the match with Jaqua as his strike partner.

“He got on the end of some crosses and caused some problems.  He's a big body and won a number of flick-ons so he did well,” Schmid said, noting that Jaqua’s successes didn’t take anything away from the performance of starter O’Brian White, who put three of his six shots on goal for the match.

Added Zakuani, “He was excellent today.  When Nate came on he made it really predictable for us - we know what we are going to get from Jaqua.  He won headers, was in the box.  When he doesn’t play, we miss Nate.  He came on and gave us a huge lift today.”

For Jaqua’s part, he came on against his former team when the Sounders were trailing 1-0 and in need of a goal.  They were pushing the attack against a physical team and Jaqua was the perfect fit for that equation.

“It’s a fun one to come in to.  We were really pushing and trying to get a goal.  It’s unfortunate we couldn’t get that second one,” he said.  “It’s fun to be out there and fun to be running around again.  I’m still trying to get my fitness back a little bit, but I thought I was able to keep it pretty simple and keep the ball moving.  It may take a little bit to get back into the flow of things, but it was fun being out there.”

While it may not have been the perfect result and Schmid is still patient to put out his best lineup, it was a giant step forward for the Sounders FC as they scored their first goal and earned their first point of the MLS season.

Next up is a road match against the San Jose Earthquakes - Riley’s former team - and the Sounders could take yet another step toward reaching their expectations for 2011.