Seattle Sounders FC tightened its grip on a wild-card playoff berth in a crucial road victory against the Columbus Crew Saturday night.
The 4-0 blowout featured three goals by Blaise Nkufo and a penalty kick from Nathan Sturgis. The importance of securing three points nearly overshadowed the awakening of Nkufo, who finally demonstrated to skeptical Sounders supporters that he can deliver when it counts.
The Swiss international and designated player recorded the team’s first MLS hat trick. It took the tall target forward 500 minutes and seven games to secure his first goal, but the timing could not have been better. This crucial road victory follows a humbling defeat against Deportivo Saprissa in the CONCACAF Champions League in Costa Rica mid-week and a scoreless draw against Real Salt Lake a week ago at Qwest Field.
“Of course it’s a great feeling scoring my first goal in MLS and for the Sounders, but I think the most important thing tonight was the three points,” Nkufo said. “We were not so confident after a few games and we needed the three points tonight.”
The win created a cushion for the Sounders in the chase for wild-card playoff spots. Seattle (10-9-6, 36 points) jumped into a tie for fourth in the Western Conference after their first road win since July 31.
Nkufo, 35, arrived in Seattle following the World Cup. Big expectations were on him considering his prolific scoring record in the Dutch First Division for FC Twente, where the team’s supporters erected a statue of him before he departed for Seattle. There were glimpses of his potential in his first matches, forcing opposing goalkeepers into sprawling saves on several occasions. His hold-up play was exceptional.
But his inability to find the net had started to trouble Sounders fans. Nkufo missed the Sounders last four matches in all competitions (two MLS games, two CONCACAF Champions League games) while nursing a knee injury, leading to speculation that the big forward might be seriously injured.
Nkufo answered the speculation and doubt in the only way a striker can — burying the ball into the back of the net.
The variety of the goalsthe first an opportunistic tally off a goalmouth scramble, the second a skillful one-on-one before an excellent finish, the third a composed right-footed side-footer into the left corner of the netoffered a clear indication of his talent and ability inside the 18-yard box.