Like many Sounders fans, I was disappointed at the news that our beloved club could not (or would not) make the big move that had appeared to be on the horizon since the club released Blaise Nkufo from his contract mere hours before the season opener. With the close of the international transfer window, hope of the Sounders signing a big-name from a league outside of the MLS ended. Improvement at striker will have to occur from within the league, or by signing a retired player (could Pele still get it done?) or free agent, if any improvement occurs at all.
With this in mind, it is perhaps a good time to take stock of what we do have up front, rather than focus on what we are lacking. Quite obviously, without a move within the league or the signing of a free agent or geriatric, the team will have to rely on a boost in form from those currently on the roster. This is concerning to me, as well as to others, since the team, while showing itself to be a competitive playoff-caliber team, has frequently struggled in the finishing department. As the Chivas game indicated, a quality finisher can be the difference between a point and three, or between a final’s appearance and an early round exit in the playoffs (here’s to hoping we can get in on the Eastern conference side of things).
Unless delusional, the average fan would have to admit that Fredy Montero is, for all his faults, our main offensive threat up front. Montero, in his 98 games in rave green, has 32 goals and 23 assists. This year, Montero has been good for 7 goals and 6 assists in 25 games, surprisingly close to his offensive productivity in prior years. His creativity and skill up front outweighs the perceived laziness or lack of desire his detractors often point to in their criticism of him. While we can always debate who best to couple with Montero, this post presumes that his production automatically places him in the starting line-up. The real question is: who best to partner with the young Colombian?
Nate Jaqua, while out of form and often-injured throughout the last two years, has been protected through the last two expansion drafts and could re-emerge as the favored partner in the Sounders attack. Jacqua, in 82 competitive games with the Sounders, has produced 17 goals and 13 assists. This production is impressive when considering that Jaqua has manufactured a mere 2 goals and 3 assists in 21 games this season. Of course, Jaqua also unofficially leads the Sounders in sitters missed (a.k.a. easy goals blown). Also, despite his height, Jaqua is not as adept with his head as one might hope a 6 foot 4 forward would be. If Jaqua could find a consistent run in the first team and rediscover his first year form, he could be the key to unlocking the offense. However, that is one huge 6 foot 4 inch “if.”
Roger Levesque has been recently favored for starts due to his hustle and tenacity. Perhaps he is the obvious compliment to Montero since Fredy provides skill and flair while Levesque gives the effort and hustle. Levesque’s 9 goals and 6 assists from 68 games, however, argues that he is better used off the bench – to provide the energy in the last 15 to 20 minutes of the match. The stats may be deceiving though as a good portion of Roger’s game time has been spent on the wings, but this also argues for the Timber-cutter’s use as a substitute as he offers flexibility as a sub at four different spots on the field (5 if you believe he could still be used at RB). Furthermore, Levesque’s production this year – with a majority of his time on the pitch spent up front – is not much better than Jaqua’s, as Levesque has tallied 3 goals and 2 assists in 19 games on the year.
Mike Fucito is the wild card of the bunch. Young, determined, and smart (apparently Harvard is a decent school), Fucito was protected in the expansion draft least year but is yet to consistently prove himself outside of training. To be fair, Fucito has not had opportunities in spades either. In 23 games with the team, Fucito has 6 goals with a single assist. This year, Fucito has only 2 goals and an assist in 14 appearances. Perhaps this lack of playmaking capability is what is keeping him from garnering more looks from Sigi, as the coach appears to prefer veterans who will hold the ball up and look to pass, as well as shoot. No doubt Fucito can set up his own shot, but he must also show that he can set up others.
This may be exactly why Pat Noonan recently got the look at starting striker. Noonan is making a push to challenge Jaqua as the most derided Sounder. To reverse that, Noonan will have to produce more than the mere goal and 2 assists in 22 games thus far. This season is no improvement as he has a lone assist in his 10 appearances. It appears that Sigi, in relying on Noonan recently, is at a point where he is just shuffling forwards in and out in the hope that one gets it going. I, for one, have my doubts that Noonan would be better than putting Nate back in as the compliment to Fredy.
All this shuffling is due to the (re)injury to O’Brian White. White’s 2 goals and 2 assists in 7 games to start the season showed why he was picked to partner with Montero. It is his (re)injury that may be the most damaging to the Sounders season since Mauro Rosales has been able to (partially) fill the void left by Zakuani in a way that none of the forwards listed above have been able to do with White.
Despite his struggles, the stats and history argue for another opportunity for Jaqua. No, his return to the starting line-up is not ideal, but ideal went out the transfer window right before it slammed closed without the Sounders making a move. Without an addition to the team through an alternative source, the return of Jaqua may be the best bet at an inconsistent position.
Who (of these 4) should be the primary partner with Fredy Montero?
Nate Jaqua (29 votes)
Roger Levesque (5 votes)
Mike Fucito (59 votes)
Pat Noonan (2 votes)
95 total votes