SEATTLE -- If the Switzerland National Team have been earning bumper ratings in the Seattle market, there’s a simple explanation. Despite the 7 am PT kickoff time, nearly the entire Sounders organization was out of bed to watch their Swiss striker Blaise Nkufo take on Chile in a crucial World Cup match.
Despite Switzerland’s 1-0 loss to the surprising Chileans, the Sounders were once again encouraged by the performance of Nkufo, who will join Seattle upon conclusion of Switzerland’s involvement in the World Cup.
At Sounders training on Monday, both Technical Director Chris Henderson and head coach Sigi Schmid praised Nkufo’s versatility and pointed out that the striker’s role with Seattle will differ than his role with the Swiss Nati. Schmid said that Nkufo will play further upfield and get on the end of crosses, rather than simply starting the offensive movements.
“Again, he did a good job of holding up the ball, allowing his team to connect off of him,” Schmid said. “A role of a player is different on every team, and his role for [Switzerland] is a guy who’s going to hold up and put others into play.
“[He’s] not necessarily be the guy who gets put into play at the end himself, but that’s something we [will] expect more from him when he gets here.”
Henderson echoed that sentiment, noting that the red card against Nkufo’s Swiss teammate Valon Behrami changed the complexion of the match. With 10 men, an already-defensive Switzerland played even more cautiously, limiting the opportunities to see Nkufo operate in dangerous areas.
“Once they got the red card, it changed the game,” said Henderson, who also praised the activity and fitness of the 35-year old. “There was one scene before he came out where he was played a ball. [Switzerland] needed some relief, [and] he was able to spin and keep the ball and just missed on a through ball. That’s the type of thing we need. He’s great at that.”
In the end, Nkufo was substituted in the 68th minute. Nevertheless, the Sounders got a taste of the player who will reinforce their second-half run and are excited to welcome the former FC Twente striker who played a key role in Switzerland’s 1-0 win against Spain in the first match of the group stage.
“In the first game, I thought he was the Man of the Match,” said defender Tyrone Marshall. “He played well, held the ball up and was a strong target guy. He’s a big guy up front and we need that.”
Switzerland still have a chance to qualify for the second round, which would likely delay Nkufo’s arrival. The Swiss, who are currently tied with Spain on three points, take on winless Honduras in a must-win game. A victory Friday, combined with a strong goal differential, could see the Nati through regardless of the result of the corresponding Spain-Chile match.
Andrew Winner covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @andrewewinner.
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