If the international transfer papers arrive on time today, Swiss striker Blaise Nkufo could make his Sounders FC debut tonight when Seattle visits D.C. United.
“(Wednesday) was my first training session after 15 days off,” Nkufo said in a conference call. “I’m going to work on my own. And of course, I want to be a part of the team and playing (tonight).”
Nkufo has spent the past month playing for the Swiss national team in the World Cup, and then being honored with the unveiling of a bronze statue by his previous club team – Twente of the Dutch premier league, where he is the all-time leading scorer.
Between club and country, Nkufo has more than 200 career goals. And that pedigree has raised expectations that he could be part of a second-half solution for the struggling Sounders (4-8-4).
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“One player is never the savior,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “(It’s) the team as a whole – how they perform, and how the group plays. As you add different parts to that, then things obviously can improve. …
“With the addition of Blaise we get an experienced forward who likes to get service from the flanks and knows how to position himself in the box. I think at key moments that’s certainly going to help us. And then we can live up to our expectations, which are just as high as the fans’.”
Schmid said he does not expect Nkufo to be part of the starting group he sends onto the pitch tonight. However, Schmid admitted he isn’t completely sure who will be.
Designated player Freddie Ljungberg did not travel with the team. Schmid attributed that to an ankle injury and declined to comment on speculation that the former Arsenal midfielder is about to be traded or transferred once the month-long international transfer window opens today.
Schmid also must find someone to replace rookie midfielder Miguel Montano, who received a red card in his first career start Sunday against FC Dallas.
“We (also) have to see a little bit with Michael Seamon, how he’s doing and how his ankle withstood training (Wednesday),” Schmid said. “Obviously, we have to replace Montano. I haven’t made a final decision yet as to who’s going to start in that area. But the thing we know is we want to play in the same manner that we played last Sunday.”
Schmid was encouraged by the energy provided by the younger lineup he sent out in what proved to be a 1-1 draw with Dallas.
He hopes to build on that against D.C. United, a traditional MLS power that has tumbled near the bottom of the league this season with a 3-9-3 record.
At age 35, Nkufo doesn’t qualify as part of a youth movement. But he said he feels physically ready to play through the remaining months of the MLS season, even after almost a year of steady play with Twente and the Swiss national team, the only team to defeat Spain (1-0 in group play) at the World Cup.
“Mentally, I think, that’s the most important,” Nkufo said. “I’m really happy to be back on the field, and I’m ready to play the next months. … It’s always hard to explain what I can do for the team. Maybe the team can do something for me. I have experience, and I’m going to watch and listen, too, and I’m going to find with the help of my teammates my own way. That’s it.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org
Read the entire Nkufo interview at blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer
SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (4-8-4, 16 PTS.) AT D.C. UNITED (3-9-3; 12 PTS.)
KICKOFF: 5 p.m., RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.
TV: ESPN2. RADIO: 97.3-FM (1210-AM in Spanish).
HEAD-TO-HEAD: The series is tied, 1-1-2. United won the previous meeting this season, 3-2, on June 10 in Seattle.
TEAM LEADERS: For Seattle - G 6, Fredy Montero; A 6, Montero; S 42, Montero; SOG 15, Montero; GAA 1.48, Kasey Keller. For D.C. - G 2, four players tied; A 2; Rodney Wallace; S 27, Santino Quaranta; SOG 12, Quaranta; GAA, Troy Perkins, 1.82.
SIGI SCHMID SCOUTING REPORT: “(Chris) Pontius had a very good game against us last time, coming off the left wing and scoring a couple of goals. … (Clyde Simms) really helps solidify them in midfield, gives them that holding presence and somebody with experience. (Dejan Jakovic was) a Canadian national team player when he was younger that helps them in the back. They’ve played better soccer as the season has gone on.”
NOTES: Swiss striker Blaise Nkufo trained with the Sounders on Wednesday and could make his MLS debut in a reserve role tonight. Similarly, two new international signees will be eligible for United tonight: Montenegro midfielder Branko Boskovic and Argentine forward Pablo Hernandez. … D.C. is last in MLS with a goal differential of minus-14 and is tied with Kansas City for fewest goals scored (11). … The Sounders are 0-3-1 over their past four league games and have lost three straight on the road. United is 0-1-2 and has scored only one goal since its win in Seattle. … Neither club was represented in the MLS All-Star First XI announced this week. … Sounders midfielder Miguel Montano is ineligible after picking up a red card Sunday vs. Dallas. … The referee is Alex Prus. … A high temperature of 95 degrees in forecast for the Washington, D.C., area today.
NEXT: Noon Sunday, a friendly vs. Celtic FC at Qwest Field. Seattle returns to MLS play July 25 when Colorado visits.
Don Ruiz, staff writer