WASHINGTON, D.C. - A veteran player with World Cup experience was a difference-maker in Seattle Sounders FC’s 1-0 win over D.C. United on Thursday.
However, it was not newly signed designated player Blaise Nkufo – who watched his new teammates from the bench.
Instead, it was 40-year-old goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who fought off a nasty collision, a right midfoot sprain and 10 United shots to help achieve Seattle’s first shutout – and first win – since June 5.
“It didn’t make me feel too nice, but you know, three points is everything,” Keller said. “We’re just so happy. We needed something to go our way.”
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United (3-10-3) maintained its own shutout until the 89th minute, when Roger Levesque’s diving header finishing a Fredy Montero cross provided the game-winner.
The play had begun when Sanna Nyassi – who had come into the game only a minute earlier – took the ball from D.C.’s Jordan Graye in the middle third.
Nyassi ran to the top of the penalty area, then rolled a pass through to Montero. He carried down the right side of the box, and just before reaching the goal line sent a cross to the back post. Levesque ran onto it just ahead of defender Dejan Jakovic, dived and headed the ball into the low corner where keeper Troy Perkins could not reach.
“Fredy got the ball out wide, held the ball up, and made a great move and whipped the ball across,” Levesque said. “It just got over their defender, and all I was trying to do was put it on frame.”
That was the only goal the Sounders (5-6-4) would need, largely because of Keller, who may have played his best game of the season. Not only did he make five saves – including ones diving, leaping and at close range – but he played the final 25 minutes clearly showing the effects of that foot injury suffered when he bolted out of the penalty area to clear a ball ahead of United’s onrushing Andy Najar.
The two arrived about the same time, and Keller tumbled awkwardly.
While Keller was down, D.C.’s Santino Quaranta lofted a shot on goal, but defender Patrick Ianni headed it away.
“I tried to chip it over,” Quaranta said. “It’s just one of those things where you think, ‘Man, I have been close so many times.’ We’re just struggling.”
Reserve keeper Terry Boss instantly began warming up, but Keller stayed in.
However, he was down again seconds later as he saved two point-blank shots after the resulting corner kick.
He limped noticeably the rest of the way, and drew boos from many in the RFK Stadium crowd of 13,716. And for the remainder of the game, he threw the ball rather than punting it, and invited teammates back to take his goal kicks.
“Kasey made some great saves, and he’s playing on a bum ankle,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “He can’t kick the ball or punt the ball at the end, and that’s why we held off so long on the last sub: because we didn’t know if we had to sub Kasey maybe. But then he felt he could get through it, and that’s when we brought on Nyassi.
Nyassi was selected over Nkufo, who was added to the roster earlier in the day as the club’s second designated player.
Nkufo had said Wednesday, after his only training session with his new teammates, that he hoped to play. And Schmid had left open that possibility. However, the call never came.
That decision means that Nkufo could make his Sounders debut Sunday at Qwest Field in an international friendly against Celtic FC.
His MLS debut could come July 25, when the Sounders return to league play against the Colorado Rapids at Qwest.
Sounders defender Leo Gonzalez will be ineligible for that one due to yellow-card accumulation after picking up a caution in the 85th minute Thursday.
Discussion and more quotes from the Sounders are available at blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer