COLUMBUS, OHIO – There is a reason a statue of Blaise Nkufo was erected outside of FC Twente’s stadium in Holland: He scores goals.
However, Nkufo hadn’t scored any over his first five games with the Sounders, and that was becoming a source of frustration.
On Saturday, the goal-scorer scored goals – three of them – leading Seattle to a record-shattering 4-0 win over the Columbus Crew.
“Of course it’s a great feeling scoring my first goal in MLS and for the Sounders,” Nkufo said in his typical whisper, barely registering above the celebratory music in the visitors’ locker room at Columbus Crew Stadium. “But I think the most important thing tonight was the three points.”
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The win was important for the Sounders in several ways. It bought them breathing room in the playoff race. It moved them over .500 in MLS at 10-9-6. It moved them to a positive goal differential, after having begun the game at minus-three. It got coach Sigi Schmid a win against his previous club. And the game also included the first professional goal by Nathan Sturgis, who nailed a penalty kick.
On another night, any of those issues might have gotten the attention.
But when designated player Nkufo becomes the first Sounders player to record a hat trick – in a single night becoming the team’s third-leading scorer this season – well, that’s where the spotlight shines.
“As a striker you have to believe you can score goals,” Nkufo said. “I still believe, (but) at my age (35) I’m not really focused about scoring goals. I’m here to help the team.”
Nkufo put Seattle ahead 1-0 in the fourth minute, fighting through a scrum in front of the goal before finally sending the ball past Columbus keeper William Hesmer.
Then, he provided a 2-0 lead against the run of play in the 39th minute, when he took the ball on the left side of the penalty area, worked his way toward the goal and beat Hesmer on a tightly angled shot to the far side.
But between those goals, Columbus (13-7-5) swarmed the Sounders and got many solid chances – several from midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo, who was giving fits to Seattle defender Leo Gonzalez.
“The Crew is a good team,” Schmid said. “They may be a team right now that’s trying to find their way a little bit, but they’re normally going to get some plays. … There was a period of time after we scored the goal where they completely dominated us.”
That ended with Seattle’s third goal, which came three minutes after the second.
Sanna Nyassi broke into the penalty area and was tugged down by Danny O’Rourke. Referee Jair Marrufo called the obvious foul. But Schmid followed with a less-than-obvious decision, sending Sturgis to the spot.
He nailed it, sending the Sounders into halftime with a 3-0 advantage.
“When I saw him point to the penalty box, I went to the ball and wanted to take it,” Sturgis said. “We’ve kind of struggled with PKs in the past. So there was kind of an open tryout to be honest, with our team. We’ve been hitting some in practice, and I’ve been hitting them pretty well. It felt good to finally get one in a game.”
Schmid goes with a set pecking order on penalty kicks, and in this game Sturgis and Fredy Montero were 1-2. He stuck to that even though revising the plan could have gotten Nkufo his hat trick.
Nkufo got it anyway, burning his third goal home in the 75th minute after a Steve Zakuani pass that Montero let roll through to Nkufo.
“We wanted him to (get the hat trick),” Zakuani said. “He’s the first player in our history to have a hat trick. But it was a great team game.”
The Sounders return to CONCACAF Champions League play Wednesday when they visit Monterrey (Mexico). They return to MLS play Saturday at Chicago.
They also will see the Crew again on Oct. 5 at Qwest Field in the U.S. Open Cup final.