Nate Jaqua has been voted the TheCup.us Player of the Tournament in 2010. The tall striker spent most of the early part of the season on the treatment table as a pelvic injury kept him sidelined and badly hit the club’s goal production.
However, his lack of opportunity to make an impact in the early part of the 2010 MLS season was more than compensated for, by the impact he made on Sounders’ successful retention of the US Open Cup.
Nate Jaqua spoke to us on Wednesday hours after learning he had won the award. The interview can also be heard on this week’s Radio Sounders show.
Prost Amerika: Congratulations on your award. When did you find out about it?
Nate Jaqua: Just today. So, yeah, it’s pretty good, and it’s a testament to our team’s success and the fact that we won the tournament.
Prost Amerika: Now obviously the US Open Cup has got to be dear in your heart because in a certain way it helped provide you a conduit back from injury toward the first team.
Nate Jaqua: Yeah. I was able to get some opportunities. When it was kind of tough getting in with the first team, got a bit more playing time, and I was able to take advantage of it and I think some of the younger guys got some opportunities as well, and we all stepped up and did well.
Prost Amerika: I love the way you say ‘some of the younger guys.’ Is that a testament to I think the collective spirit in the squad, I’m actually going to ask you about Fredy Montero especially and how he seems to have adopted, especially with regard to some of the newer players, a nurturing role. So is there a feeling in the squad that as new people come in some of you guys who were the youngsters step up to a new level of responsibility?
Nate Jaqua: Yeah definitely. I’ve been in the league now for eight years, so when guys come in it’s one of those ones where you try to help them out, try to get them going, and the more you can do that the more it helps the team.
Prost Amerika: Many of the people who have excelled in the US Open Cup at Starfire have a longstanding relationship with the ground because of their time in the USL. But for yourself it was new. Coming into Sounders FC you’d never really played there before. Tell me a little bit about what it’s like playing at Starfire.
Nate Jaqua: It’s a great atmosphere. The fans are right on the pitch. I appreciated this year too that they switched out the turf and got a little bit longer turf in there, the ball holds up a little bit more. Last year it was a little bit more bumpy and it’s a small pitch so it’s one of those ones where it was a bit more of a fight last year. I think we were able to get the ball down and play a little bit more quality soccer and we were able to put on I think some very good performances there and had a very enjoyable time playing there.
Prost Amerika: And you managed to survive this year’s competition without bleeding.
Nate Jaqua: I did. That’s always a good thing.
Prost Amerika: But Paulo Nagamura appears to have taken the brunt of it for you.
Nate Jaqua: Yeah. I think he got a little beat up in that one. They’re always very physical games there. It’s a smaller field, it’s one where you have to win your individual battles.
Prost Amerika: Talk about the crowd atmosphere at Starfire.
Nate Jaqua: It’s unbelievable. You wouldn’t think a stadium of 4,000 could get that loud but it’s just kind of right on top of you, and we really appreciate all the fans coming down there and making it that type of atmosphere.
“A few of the other clubs don’t take it seriously, but I think it’s a great tournament.”
Prost Amerika: It seems like this club has a very special relationship with the US Open Cup. Maybe you can speak on behalf of yourself and to a certain extent on behalf of the rest of the locker room. How do the players feel toward this competition?
Nate Jaqua: I think one of the things is we have such a deep team, and I think some of the other teams aren’t able to — I mean they’re more worried about on Saturday so they aren’t able to field quite the squad that we are, and we give some guys some rest and other guys can really step in and play. We definitely I think it was a special moment winning it last year, and I think we wanted to win it again. It’s one of those ones we definitely take seriously. I was with a group in Chicago though where we also took it pretty seriously. A few of the other clubs don’t, but I think it’s a great tournament, it’s a fun tournament and it’s one that hopefully grows with time.
Prost Amerika: Now I want to ask you a little about your new arrival up front, Blaise Nkufo. Steve Zakuani I believe was widely quoted as saying that he was one of the best guys in that small portion of the box he’s seen. Have you been learning a lot off Blaise?
Nate Jaqua: Yeah, Blaise is a very very smart player. He’s been around for quite a few years and is very experienced, so I definitely try to learn from him. He’s good at finding those little pockets. The ball’s kind of getting cut back, find a quick touch and create space and get shots off.
Prost Amerika: As luck would have it not only did you win an award today but last night you scored at Qwest Field. That’s the first time in a while you’ve scored at Qwest Field, isn’t it?
Nate Jaqua: I hadn’t thought about that but yeah, it was good to get on the score sheet last night, and it was a fun game last night against Chivas. Good battle and I like playing up top with Fucito, I think we have a good partnership, and it was good to get back out there.
Prost Amerika: What is, from inside the locker room from a fellow professional, what is the scouting report on Mike Fucito? What are his strengths?
Nate Jaqua: To begin with, he’s got great pace. So he’s always somebody who can stretch the line, and for me that helps quite a bit, always has the option to play somebody through, but he also runs off me well and combines well, and he’s got a very good finishing touch right now.
Prost Amerika: Like Sanna Nyassi, he seems to have the golden boot that everything he tries seems to turn to a goal.
Nate Jaqua: Yes. Sanna’s been amazing the last month, and it was pretty incredible to see him come into the game and have one kind of bounce off his knee into the goal but a perfect time for him, and he’s been doing well, and I’m happy to see it.
Prost Amerika: That is one thing that has been the strength of the club this year that Fredy was scoring and scoring, and he’s gone through a drought of five or six games and others have stepped up to make up the numbers in terms of goals.
Nate Jaqua: I think we have a very deep team and quite a few different ways to attack, different qualities to attack, and when one guy’s not scoring I think other guys are able to step up, and that’s definitely important for our team.
Prost Amerika: To move on to another subject, it’s getting toward that time of year when the expansion draft starts to happen and this year is fairly unique because there are two clubs and they’re both local. A lot of people are saying Nate Jaqua must be protected or Player X must be protected. But emotionally how does a player handle the uncertainty of waiting for a list to be published and not quite knowing what his fate will be?
Nate Jaqua: Right now we’re still in the season, so it’s not something we’re really thinking about. It’s obviously one where we have a deep team, and I think we have a lot of guys after you — over that eleven number where there are definitely guys that are — we could lose some guys next year. But right now we’re concentrating on the season and then we’ll deal with that after the season’s done.
Prost Amerika: There’s another one last challenge for you. You probably are well aware that you joint hold the record for US Open Cup goals this year with a young guy called Paulo Junior who scored five for Miami FC in the early rounds. He then went on and scored one for RSL in the CONCACAF Cup. You’ve got one game left in which to do that. Is it worth going and knocking on Sigi’s door saying you don’t want to be one-upped by this kid in Utah?
Nate Jaqua: I haven’t really thought about that. I’m excited to play in that next Tuesday game against Saprissa. We still want to do well in that. We want to get another win. Anytime you can play out at Qwest in front of our fans, it’s more about getting out there and beating them.
Prost Amerika: So there’s no atmosphere in the Sounders dressing room, that of recharging the battery before the playoffs, you’re going to keep trying to win the three remaining games?
Nate Jaqua: Yeah definitely. I’m not quite sure how we’re going to approach every game, but right now I think we’re going in to play Chivas this weekend, we’re going to put up the best team and get a victory there. I think we’ll give some opportunities to some guys in the Saprissa game obviously and rest some of the other guys. But no, we want to stay on a roll. It’s not one where you really want to take your foot off the pedal going into the playoffs . It’s one where you want to stay on a roll and keep winning.