TUKWILA – There could be changes on both ends of Seattle’s corner kicks Sunday when Sounders FC returns to Qwest Field against the Colorado Rapids.
The shakeup results from personnel changes not primarily related to corners. But that still might not be a bad thing. So far this season, only one of Seattle’s 105 corner kicks has resulted in a goal.
“We haven’t had near the success that we’ve wanted,” veteran Peter Vagenas said after training Friday. “Sometimes the service is perfect, and the runs aren’t there. Sometimes the service isn’t great, and the runs are perfect. It’s something where everything has to meet for a goal to happen.”
Coach Sigi Schmid notes that such synchronization is rare.
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“There are a lot of teams in this league that have no goals off of corner kicks,” he said. “And if a team gets five or six off of corner kicks in 30 games, it’s considered a great corner-kick season.”
Regardless, some new Sounders are about to get their chance.
On the kicking end, Nathan Sturgis will fill in for the man who has launched a league-high 75 corner kicks: designated player Freddie Ljungberg, who has been given club permission to negotiate a deal with another club.
“It’s just about putting the ball in the right spot at a good pace that’s tough for the defenders to read,” Sturgis said. “But it’s just a lot of timing: having good runs and good service at the same time.”
Vagenas explained that there generally aren’t specific “plays” on corner kicks; at least, not comparable to in-bound plays in basketball. Instead, the kicker aims for a spot – usually the front or back post.
“There is so much pulling and fighting going on, where if the referee wanted to he could probably call a penalty every single time,” Vagenas said. “So you’re aiming for spots, and it’s up to the guys on the team to get there.”
It doesn’t hurt if those teammates have the strength to fight past defenders, along with the ability to leap over them.
Until recently, Seattle has been making do with Patrick Ianni, Tyrone Marshall and Jeff Parke.
However, the most natural target on the club is 6-foot-4 Nate Jaqua, who recently returned from injury. And when designated player Blaise Nkufo makes his MLS debut Sunday, he also should make an inviting target at 6-2 and a muscular 185 pounds.
“It’s much better to be aiming for Nate Jaqua than for me, for example, in the 6-yard box,” said Vagenas, who is 5-8. “(Guys of all sizes can be dangerous), but obviously the big guys help. ... They’ll (also) draw the other guy’s best defenders, which might free up some of our other guys.”
One downside to having new personnel on both ends of the kick is their lack of time working with each other. And especially because Schmid considers timing the most important part of turning penalty kicks into goals.
“It’s a matter of the timing of our runs,” he said. “I think in the last couple of games we’ve been getting in too early, so we’ve been standing. It’s tough to stand and jump. It’s a lot better is you can get a head start and be moving. But sometimes it takes a while.”
Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer said Friday that Ljungberg remains in the Northwest while trying to arrange his departure from the club. Hanauer said he will not force Ljungberg’s hand by shipping him anywhere he doesn’t want to go. However, he also conceded that bringing in another high-cost player could be impossible until Ljungberg’s salary is moved off the books. ... Roger Levesque’s diving header July 15 at D.C. United has been selected as the MLS goal of the week.