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Closer Look, Seattle Sounders Vs. Fire: Stellar Play Makes For Brewing Target Forward Battle

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Not sure how long I can keep this up, but I am going to attempt to do one of these "closer look" pieces as often as possible. Like last week, I wanted to focus on some of the offensive players, only this time I only looked at the guys we're still wondering about in terms of who should be starting. What I came away with was an appreciation for the potential depth of talent at the position we've usually called the target forward. In the Chicago Fire match, especially, O'Brian White and Nate Jaqua showcased skills worth of starting.

Even discounting White's goal, he had a great game just based on his hold-up play. In about 81 minutes, I counted White as having 28 touches, just two of which were negative. (Glossary of term reminder: I called any touch that moved the action forward "positive"; most square passes were deemed "neutral"; and if it resulted in a change of possession they were "negative.") White was winning aerial duels, collecting passes and generally being a very effective conduit for building the attack.

But he wasn't just limiting mistakes, he also had nine positive touches, two of which resulted in goals. The goal he scored and the way he didn't has been gone over repeatedly. Let's just agree to call it extremely impressive. The assist he had on Steve Zakuani's goal has not received quite as much attention, but in a way it was more important.

While the header is one of those things that will be hard to replicate, the pass to Zakuani is one of those things that you could see becoming more of a "play." It starts with White making himself available to Zakuani, as the winger is making his way down the sideline. White takes a simple square pass from Zakuani, who is led perfectly with a side-footed ball from the forward. Zakuani takes it from there and beats Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson near post.

"The more you play the more you get to figure out players," White said after the game. "I just think it's a work in progress but it's been good. Just keep working and work off of each other and success will follow."

In a bit of a surprise, Jaqua actually played alongside White for about 15 minutes, and while Sounders coach Sigi Schmid didn't seem particularly enthused with their play together, I actually found them to be reasonably complementary. White seemed to remain more of the target forward, while Jaqua operated in more of a withdrawn role. The two forward did not combine any particularly noteworthy plays, but the offense continued to create chances with both of them on the field.

I didn't count Jaqua as having any negative touches during his roughly 35 minutes of play and had him with seven positive touches, including three that led to scoring chances. Two of those scoring chances were created while White was on the field.

The most impressive of those chances came in the 75th minute when Jaqua got a ball well behind the center line and essentially one-touched a perfectly weighted ball about 40 yards down field to a streaking Zakuani, who had badly beaten the defense. Zakuani was able to beat his defender and nearly scored his second goal of the match, but his shot at the far post went just wide. Jaqua also made a very nice pass to Carrasco that the midfielder pushed just wide, as well as solid pass that created another Zakuani chance earlier in the match.

"It's nice when it settles down and you get some opportunities to do that," Jaqua said. "When it falls and you can play a bit more, it's nice."

Right now, it's hard to imagine Jaqua supplanting White as the starter, but the battle is clearly heating up. For better or for worse, neither player seems 90 minutes fit right now, so both will likely be getting a fair amount of time to make their respective cases. If they keep up this pace, it's a great problem to have.

Other observations

  • Mauro Rosales had another great game. I had him with 39 touches, just seven of which were negative and 17 were positive, with two leading to clear scoring chances. That's an extremely active day, especially considering he came off in the 64th minute.
  • Brad Evans was really kinda awesome. He seemed to win every aerial duel in which he was involved and ended up with 27 touches in the first half alone, just three of which were negative. He finished the match with 42 touches, only five of which were negative. He didn't create any goal-scoring chances, but he was about as solid as could be.
  • The only other player I charted was Erik Friberg, and judged on my grading system, he was easily the worst player of the bunch. He was very active, 50 touches, but he also was relatively high risk. He registered 11 negative touches and 13 positive touches. He was involved in a goal-scoring chance, but it's hard to give him credit for it since he missed a wide open goal.

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