Nathan Sturgis must be wondering what he has to do exactly to catch a break in this league. After winning the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award during his senior year at Clemson University, he was selected 12th overall in the 2006 Superdraft. Sturgis was even signed to a Generation Adidas contract. Nine years later, he has played for six different clubs, and has never stayed anywhere more than two seasons.
It seems like every time Sturgis finds his place at a club, he gets shipped out to somewhere else in need of midfield utility. He had a decent first season with LA Galaxy but the next season he was traded to Real Salt Lake. Unable to make an impact there, the (then) brand new Seattle Sounders signed him for their opening campaign. It wasn't until his second season that he really broke out and found a solid place in the starting line-up. But then came another expansion draft, which put him in Toronto by way of Vancouver. He gained occasional minutes for the Reds but was sent to Houston Dynamo at season's end. Finally, after no success in the Lone Star State, Oscar Pareja, with an eye for midfield talent, snagged Sturgis for the 2013 season with the Rapids. Yet, here we are in 2014 and it seems he's lost his spot again.
So why is it that Sturgis is continually seen as surplus (or at least expendable) after he has successful (albeit mildly) seasons? The answer lies within his style as a midfielder. He's no "honey badger" like Osvaldo Alonso, consistently winning possession and breaking up plays. He's also not a Kyle Beckerman who can serve up a tasty key pass at a moment's notice. Where Nathan Sturgis excels isn't wowing with tremendous plays, it's in the little things. Unfortunately, little things get overlooked.
While he may not be the best at any particular skill on the field, Sturgis is tidy. He keeps the ball and always finds the simple pass. He's smart, too. He knows when to foray forward, yet also knows when to hang back. Sure, he doesn't make a habit of splitting the defense with a perfect through-ball like Powers, and he doesn't bulldoze attackers like Hendry Thomas did. But Sturgis was pretty darn good at the one thing Oscar preached the most: possession.
Take a look at these stats from Jose Mari and Nick LaBrocca from Saturday's game against Portand:
Successful Passes: 42
Unsuccessful Passes: 15
Tackled and Loss of Possession: 20
Successful Passes: 47
Unsuccessful Passes: 14
Tackled and Loss of Possession: 15
Those numbers aren't great, but they're not awful, either. They are also very similar to their numbers from the New York game. The one that most concerns me would be the last category for each. After looking through all of Sturgis' games last season that I could get stats for, the worst I could find in Tackled and Loss of Possession was 10 (averaged around 7 or 8). That stat comes from the 1-1 draw with Chivas, in which Sturgis had 88 successful passes and only 8 unsuccessful.
I know it's still very early in the season and the sample size for LaBrocca and Jose Mari is small, but Sturgis provides smart possession play throughout the midfield. I love what LaBrocca has done so far this season and, once he's settled, I think Jose Mari will be very, very good for this team, but Nathan Sturgis needs to start in the Rapids midfield. As the likely replacement for the suspended Jose Mari this weekend, perhaps Sturgis can retake his box-to-box spot, and in the process put an end to his "One-Good-Next-Out" curse.