Change was the name of the game this offseason for the Houston Dynamo thanks to an influx of international talent. Through the first month-and-a-half of the season, however, that international flavor has taken a back seat to the newcomer that’s come through the most: Nathan Sturgis.
A Re-entry Draft selection that took time to book a spot on the roster, Sturgis has now locked up a spot in the midfield. He's started all five of the games he's appeared in, adding one goal and plenty of dirty defensive work heading into Saturday's home matchup with Sporting Kansas City (7:30 p.m. CT; TICKETS).
“As we spoke to him in the summer when Matt [Jordan, general manager] and I got to the club, it was an opportunity for him to come and show everyone that he wasn’t just what people perceived to be a very good player but somebody maybe played half of [the season],” head coach Owen Coyle said. “I said, ‘Come in and show everyone you can play every game.’ He was patient the first couple of games and he’s stepped in and done very well every game.”
Sturgis is in his second tour with the Dynamo and is finding early success. After being deployed in defense for much of his first go-round, Sturgis has started the last five games in the midfield and made the most of his chances to play his best position.
“I think playing in the center of midfield is probably my better position,” Sturgis said. “Last time I was here I was playing a bit of center back – that was kind of where they needed me so that’s where I’d play – but felt that I couldn’t really push for more playing time in that position. It’s been good to come in and kind of play what I feel is my best position.”
Under Coyle, the midfielder’s been allowed to use his technical ability and sense of positioning to help run the Dynamo midfield. Sturgis has been able to work from a point of comfort, often anchoring the midfield trio of himself, Ricardo Clark and Luis Garrido.
“Nate’s got a number of attributes that we utilize,” Coyle said. “When we’ve played the one protecting the back four then Nate knows that game and he’s probably suited to that area because he’s good in there because he can hit the ball and he has an understanding of when to be at the right place at the right time.”
While he’s been a journeyman of sorts in MLS – he’s on his seventh team in 12 seasons – his ability to hit balls all over the park is something that his teammates have recognized.
“It’s two-fold, that position," said Coyle. "It’s not just helping the center backs. It’s when we’re in position to really be instrumental at passing and switching the play and Nate has that in his locker."
That ability to help the Dynamo transition from defense to attack has so far been good and shown that Sturgis can impact a game from deep in the formation. With a grip on a starting position, has Sturgis finally found a long-term home? He isn't ready to say so just yet.
“We’ll see. Not looking too far ahead, just really concentrating on the here and now,” Sturgis said. “I’ve gotten a great opportunity to play, so I’m just trying to take advantage of that. I’ve definitely learned you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, so just try to do your best right now and hope it works out.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.