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Originally published May 2, 2011 at 9:17 PM | Page modified May 2, 2011 at 10:26 PM

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Steve Kelley

Why the search? Nate Jaqua might be Sounders' answer

Last Saturday night, Nate Jaqua and Fredy Montero were together again. Once again, Jaqua was wreaking havoc in front of the goal and Montero was buzzing around, creating opportunities for Brad Evans, Alvaro Fernandez and others.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Wednesday

Sounders FC @ D.C. United, 4:30 p.m., KONG

quotes Good points in the article and good comments by everyone so far. It is fair to say that... Read more
quotes I heard a guy next to me early in the match saying "Wow, Jaqua came to play... Read more
quotes I agree with snowdog and opie - I don't hate Jaqua but the league has improved so much... Read more

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For almost two years now Sounders FC has spanned the globe looking for the perfect mate for Fredy Montero.

From Switzerland to the Bahamas, the Sounders have searched for the right target man who could give Montero the freedom to be dynamic, to attract attention, create space and score goals.

Since the end of the team's expansion season, general manager Adrian Hanauer, technical director Chris Henderson and coach Sigi Schmid have traveled like contestants on "The Amazing Race," scouting for someone special to link with their talented Colombian goal scorer.

But maybe, all along, the answer has been on their roster, on their bench, in their reserve games, just waiting to get healthy, waiting for a second chance.

Last Saturday night, Nate Jaqua and Fredy Montero were together again. Paired up front against Toronto FC.

"It was like old times," Jaqua said. "And after the game Fredy and I shook hands and told each other how much fun it was to play together again."

Once again, Jaqua was wreaking havoc in front of the goal and Montero was buzzing around, creating opportunities for Brad Evans, Alvaro Fernandez and others.

The Sounders have looked globally for the perfect target man. Maybe they should think locally.

If Saturday night's 3-0 win over Toronto is something close to the truth, the answer to their search may be their striker from the University of Portland.

"They make a classic pair," Schmid said of Jaqua and Montero. "It's a classic target man and second forward."

When they played together in the expansion season of 2009, Montero and Jaqua often were as together as Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki. Montero had 12 goals and seven assists. Jaqua had nine goals and seven assists. They worked hard for each other.

"Fredy and I have a pretty good understanding of each other," Jaqua said.

But last season, Jaqua was plagued by a severe hip injury. He missed the first 13 games, and when he played, he limped. He never felt like himself.

He took cortisone shots. He had lubricants injected into his hip and still, by the 50th minute of games, he felt as if he were dragging his leg. He had two surgeries.

"Any time you have a surgery, you always question whether you're going to lose a step," Jaqua said. "And I don't have many steps to lose."

With Swiss international Blaise Nkufo retired and O'Brian White and Steve Zakuani injured, Jaqua started against Toronto and helped create at least a half-dozen deadly chances.

He won a bundle of balls. He sent a cross into the box that Montero headed over the bar. Montero slid a pass to Jaqua, who sent another scary pass to Evans that was smothered by Toronto keeper Stefan Frei.

Jaqua plays hard but fair. He does all of the dirty work, makes all the tough challenges that Nkufo, in the deep twilight of his career, refused to make. Soccer is a blood sport to Jaqua. It's full contact. He can make the beautiful game look nasty.

"Some of our most productive goal scoring was when Fredy and Jaqua were paired together in 2009," Hanauer said. "We're certainly not afraid to roll out that combination. Nate's not going to let someone take his starting position without a fight. I think you can see that. He wants it back, and that competition has always been great. He's a great guy to have on the team."

Jaqua, 29 and a 10-year MLS veteran, understands the front office will be looking for another goal scorer. The Sounders won't be afraid to spend money on an offensive threat who can replace Zakuani.

"We've always been a club that, if we have the capacity to go out and add another quality players, we're going to do that," Hanauer said. "And in the summer we will have that capacity."

Every game will be an audition for Jaqua.

"I want to get in there and prove that, week in and week out, I can help this team win," said Jaqua, who should start again Wednesday when the Sounders play at D.C. United. "If I can get healthy to the point where I'm playing the way I want to play, I think I can really help the team."

In the 72nd minute of Saturday's game, he was replaced by Roger Levesque, and the appreciative sold-out Qwest crowd gave Jaqua a loud, standing ovation.

The door has opened again for Nate Jaqua. Expect him to push and fight and do whatever he can to keep it open.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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