Jaqua's surgery leaves Sounders without tall targets

By midseason, Sounders FC might have two big forwards who can hold the ball and make themselves inviting targets in front of an opponent's goal.

For now, they have none.

Newcomer Blaise Nkufo won’t join the club until he finishes his World Cup commitment with the Swiss team in mid-July. And returning forward Nate Jaqua, who missed most of preseason training with an injury, had surgery Wednesday in Philadelphia to repair a lower abdominal problem.

The club said he is expected to rejoin training in four to six weeks. Meanwhile, the Sounders face the first third of the season without the height and muscle he once provided.

“It’s horrible that he’s been injured for almost two months now,” said Freddie Ljungberg, who launches most of Seattle’s set pieces. “For me, especially on free kicks and corners, he’s the main target that I hit. … He’s so big and strong that he can hold off the defender and then play it back to us so we can play. In that way we miss his strength quite a lot.”

At 6-foot-4, Jaqua is 2 inches taller than any other Sounders regular. A native of Eugene, Ore., he joined Seattle from Houston in the expansion draft. In the Sounders’ inaugural season he posted career bests with nine goals and seven assists.

Coach Sigi Schmid said even those numbers don’t do justice to Jaqua’s impact.

“I think we were the high or second in the league in goals off corners last year, and I don’t think Jaqua got many (goals) off corners for us,” Schmid said. “But him being in there maybe draws the marker who is now taking Tyrone Marshall. … Their concern about (Jaqua) maybe draws some of the attention away and opens some space for others.”

The 6-2 Nkufo, who has more than 200 career goals for club and country, seems to share many of Jaqua’s qualities. So in the preseason, the main question seemed to be how the Sounders would accommodate such similar players.

Now, for a team that has managed two goals in two games, the more urgent issue is creating offense without them.

“Jaqua going down was a blow because it’s pretty obvious that we don’t have a lot of big tall guys that are going to bang around in the box,” general manager Adrian Hanauer said. “Bringing Pat (Noonan) in, I think, helps us in that area. Pat’s not a 6-4 guy, but he uses his body well, he’s strong. He’s a good pro and he will help in that regard.”

Tacoma team hires coach

Former Tacoma Stars player and Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame inductee Gerry Gray will coach Tacoma Tide FC of the Premier Development League this season, the club announced Thursday.

Gray played for the Canadian national team, Canada’s 1984 Olympic team and the Vancouver Whitecaps. He has been involved with the Tide for several seasons as an advisor and television color commentator.

“I’m not doing this for the business,” Gray said through a release. “I’m doing it because soccer is my passion, and I want to help these young players.”

The Tide begins its fifth season May 15 at Kitsap. The home opener is May 28 versus Yakima.

Added time

Midfielder Brad Evans was back at training Thursday after being helped off the pitch Tuesday with a knee problem that he says has flared occasionally since high school. “I’ve probably had like six MRIs on it,” he said. “… With certain motion, it creates a little barrier where I can’t straighten my leg. It never causes pain. It never causes swelling. So, it’s just a matter of time before it relaxes.” … MLS announced Thursday that it has added two roster slots per club to accommodate more young American and Canadian players. The new roster limit of 26 per club includes 20 senior players and six so-called protected players, young or low-salary players who do not count against the salary cap.