Almost ready to play

  • By John Boyle Herald Writer
  • Thursday, March 24, 2011 12:01am
  • Sports

Seattle’s big man up front is getting closer to his 2011 debut. Now the question is whether Nate Jaqua’s return can help awaken the slumbering Sounders offense.

Seattle — which to be fair has not been at full strength to start the season, particularly on the offensive side of the field — is scoreless so far in 180 minutes of play in 2011. Despite solid performances against two of the league’s best teams, Los Angeles and New York, Seattle has lost its first two games, both by 1-0 margins as goal scoring chances went by the wayside both at Qwest Field against the Galaxy and Red Bull Arena against the Red Bulls.

Now while it’s far too early for Sounders players or coach Sigi Schmid to hit the panic button, everyone can agree that Friday night’s home game against Houston would be a fine time to end its scoring drought.

Whenever Jaqua, who missed the first two games while recovering from hip surgery, does return to action, be it Friday night or next week, the 6-foot-4 forward would certainly provide a boost to the struggling offense.

“I think we played two very good teams and we had some good chances,” Jaqua said. “It’s just a matter of putting those away. Obviously I’d like to be out there and hope I can help the team, but we got a good group and we have the ability to score quite a few goals.”

For what it’s worth Jaqua was listed as doubtful on the official injury report that came out Tuesday, but he has been practicing this week and said Tuesday that he is targeting Friday as his return date.

“I think at this point it’s just a matter of getting fit and making sure I don’t do too much where I overdo it,” he said. “I’m hoping to be available for Friday. I feel good. We’ve talked about it a little bit with the coaching staff, and it’ll depend on how I do this week, but I would like to be available.”

In 2009, his last healthy season, Jaqua posted career highs with nine goals and seven assists for Seattle in the Sounders’ expansion season. He missed the first three months of last season because of injury, and was never fully healthy when he came back, which led to surgery in November. Despite playing at less than full strength, Jaqua was able to score five goals in U.S. Open Cup play as Seattle defended its title in the tournament. Jaqua is close to full strength in his recovery — he estimated he has been practicing without limitations for a week and a half — but is trying to avoid rushing back into action.

“I’m very eager,” he said. “But it’s also a matter of getting that sharpness back. You don’t want to come back too early and not be as effective as you could be. It’s one of those ones where I feel like I’m starting to get better touches and just a matter of playing now.”

Even if Jaqua can return this week, it is likely that O’Brian White, who Seattle acquired in a trade this offseason, will make his third straight start at forward.

White looked to be a reserve at the start of the season, but the last-minute departure of Blaise Nkufo, who left the team just before the season opener, cleared the way for White to start. White has been active on the attack in his first two games, but like his teammates hasn’t been able to find the net.

“Sometimes it’s frustrating, but at the same time you can’t get too frustrated, because that will take your mind off the game,” said White. “You’re going to be disappointed when you don’t score in two games, but you’ve got to use it as motivation to score more goals.”

Whether the goals come from White, Jaqua, Fredy Montero, or anyone else, Seattle feels like it’s due to turn scoring chances into goals Friday night.

“We just need to see the ball go in the back of the net,” Schmid said. “We think if we can get one that will open it up for us a little bit, take the pressure off the pressure-cooker a little bit. I think we have been in both games that we have played. We’ve done well in those games in terms of our play but we haven’t scored.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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