COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – There are journeymen-type players, and then there’s Nathan Sturgis.
In just his eighth season in the league, the Colorado Rapids central midfielder has played for nearly a third of MLS’ teams. The 2013 campaign marks the fourth consecutive year he has found himself playing with a different club.
But after a long cross-country and even international journey (he played for Toronto FC in 2011), Sturgis is quickly making a home for himself in Colorado, his sixth team in eight years.
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Since making his first Rapids start on May 4, Sturgis has played all but 12 minutes of Colorado’s last 12 games. He's notched four goals and played a large role in driving the Rapids' 6-3-3 record over that stretch. It's a run of relatively good form that has seen the club push its way back into the Western Conference playoff picture.
Sturgis, who made just five league appearances a year ago for Houston, has rejuvenated his career in Colorado with an eye for goal and an attitude that earned eye-catchingly high praise from Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja ahead of Wednesday's match against New England.
“Nathan’s professionalism and respect for the game, I think he’s one of the most team[-centric] players that I’ve ever met before in my career, as a teammate or as a coach,” said Pareja, who has been in MLS as a player and coach since 1998. “He waited for his moment, he was patient, and now, he’s become a key player for us.”
Sturgis was mostly seen as an add-on in the trade that sent Omar Cummings to Houston last December. Cast off by his fourth team in as many years, Sturgis came to Colorado looking to re-establish a consistent spot in the lineup for the first time since making 16 starts in 2010 for Seattle, but he was on the bench for each of the Rapids’ first nine games of the season before getting his first chance two months ago.
Part of the key to Sturgis’ success in Colorado so far has been developing a chemistry and familiarity with fellow midfielder Hendry Thomas. The Honduran holds down the defensive midfield spot just in front of the team’s backline, allowing Sturgis the freedom to push away from defensive midfield and move further forward, helping result in his surprising four goals over 11 starts.
“Thomas for the most part does that job of making sure there’s always someone holding,” Sturgis told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “So yeah, I feel that gives me that freedom to get forward but still, I have a lot of defensive responsibilities.”
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Injuries to teammates and a lack of early season results allowed Sturgis a chance to shine, and he’s happy to finally be getting consistent playing time for the first time in three years.
“It’s been tough when you’re kind of bouncing around, not getting consistent playing time, tough for any player to really find a rhythm, get your confidence up,” Sturgis said. “I think the way we’ve been playing has definitely helped my game, which has given me a good role that fits my style of play well.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.