SEATTLE — They are the perfect foil for one another.
Nate Jaqua: The hulking target man, able to win balls in the air and fend off defenders with ease.
Fredy Montero: The skillful little magician, full of tricks and flicks aplenty.
Two contrasting styles, but the ideal complement. And now that the Seattle Sounders FC strikers have built a chemistry, the rest of the MLS had best beware.
Sunday afternoon became a stage for Jaqua and Montero to demonstrate a strike partnership working at its very best, as the Sounders beat the Colorado Rapids 3-0 at Qwest Field.
Jaqua scored two goals, Montero scored once, and each of the goals was set up by the other as Seattle, thanks to the growing understanding between Jaqua and Montero, displayed a cutting edge that Colorado lacked.
“I think it’s getting better,” Jaqua said about the chemistry between himself and Montero. “You want two forwards working together to create, combining and scoring. That’s exactly what you want, so it’s good.”
Montero scored his goal midway through the first half, stabbing in Jaqua’s header from a corner kick. Then Jaqua scored both his in the second half after being played through by Montero.
Jaqua even had a chance to polish off his hat trick toward the end, but his touch on a late breakaway was a tad heavy, allowing Colorado goalkeeper Matt Pickens to reach the ball first.
Montero now leads the team in both goals (eight) and assists (six), while Jaqua is second in both categories (six goals, five assists). Much of those totals are courtesy of the other.
“The coordination between the two has definitely gotten better,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said.
“I thought their spacing was good,” Schmid continued. “Their relationship to each other was very good, their space from each other was good, and their runs off each other were good.”
Meanwhile Colorado, playing without leading goal scorer Conor Casey who was away with the U.S. national team, flailed when presented with scoring chances, oftentimes failing to make solid contact with shooting opportunities begging. The Rapids even wasted a penalty kick as Omar Cummings put his shot off the post.
The net result was a comfortable victory for Seattle, despite a game that was even territorially. Now the Sounders (6-3-7) have some cushion over Colorado (5-3-6) for third place in the Western Conference. The Sounders lead the Rapids by four points, with Colorado having two games in hand.
“This was a big game because they’re breathing down our necks,” Schmid said. “Now we’ve got four points of separation, and I know they have two games in hand, but they still have to win those games. They can’t afford to lose one of those two games or else we stay ahead of them, so it’s a good position to be in.”
There was little separating the teams and few scoring chances when Seattle broke the ice in the 23rd minute, thanks to the first connection between Jaqua and Montero. Jaqua headed Freddie Ljungberg’s outswinging corner from the right goalward, and Montero lunged in to deflect the ball in from close range, giving the Sounders a 1-0 lead.
The game then opened up and could have turned in the 35th minute. Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso blocked Colin Clark’s free kick from just outside the penalty box, but as play continued the linesman waved play back, saying Alonso blocked the ball with his arms, and Colorado was awarded a penalty kick as the Sounders howled in protest. However, Cummings’ shot smacked the right post and the Sounders cleared the rebound, preserving their lead.
Seattle then consolidated its lead three minutes into the second half. An intricate give-and-go between Jaqua and Montero played Jaqua free into the penalty box. Jaqua kept his balance past a last-ditch tackle and slotted the ball past Colorado goalkeeper Matt Pickens and into the far corner, making it 2-0.
The Sounders then clinched it in the 68th minute. Seattle broke four-on-three after an extended period of pressure in the Sounders box. Sebastian Le Toux centered a pass for Montero, whose little touch set Jaqua free charging down the left. Jaqua’s shot beat Pickens at the near post to give the Sounders a secure 3-0 lead.
Sunday’s game was the first where new sections of the stands at Qwest Field were open to the fans, allowing the Sounders to set a new record for home attendance at 32,526. … Seattle played without winger Steve Zakuani. The first-overall pick in this year’s SuperDraft was out with an ankle sprain. Seattle also lost Alonso to an abductor pull late in the first half. … The fans were treated to two games for the price of one. In addition to the Seattle game, they also got to watch the Confederations Cup championship game between the U.S. and Brazil. The first half of the game, played in Johannesburg, South Africa, was shown live on the Qwest Field video board before the game, and the second half was shown on delay following the Sounders game.