COLUMBUS – Swiss international Blaise Nkufo returned from a knee injury to score three times as the Seattle Sounders solidified their playoff chances with a 4-0 drubbing of Columbus on Saturday.
Nkufo was scoreless in five games since joining Seattle after the World Cup but scored in the 4th and 39th minutes and completed the hat trick in the 75th.
Nathan Sturgis added a penalty kick in the 42nd minute to stun the Eastern Conference leaders and the crowd of 17,144 but not Sounders co-owner and Cleveland native Drew Carey, who was in attendance.
Sturgis had his first career goal in 55 games after Danny O’Rourke pulled down Patrick Ianni in the box.
The result equaled the Crew’s worst loss ever. The last time the home side lost by four goals was May 19, 2007, away to New York. Their worst home loss was also 4-0, versus Kansas City on May 14, 2005.
Columbus (13-7-5, 44 points) missed a chance to increase their three-point lead over second-place New York and have lost two straight for the first time this season.
Seattle (10-9-6, 36 points) are 6-1-3 in the past 10 games.
Seattle coach Sigi Schmid continued his personal unbeaten streak at Crew Stadium. He has 10 wins and two ties in his past 12 games coaching in Columbus, including going undefeated in his final 10 games as Crew coach in 2008.
After taking the Seattle job in 2009, he led the Sounders in their first visit to Columbus in October of last year, when they ended the Crew’s 22-game regular-season home unbeaten streak.
If the Crew were hoping for revenge, they didn’t show it early.
In a replica of the matchup that ended 1-1 on May 1 in Seattle, the Sounders got out of the gates quickly. They nearly scored in the thirdminute when Fredy Montero laid the ball back to Sanna Nyassi for a 16-yard strike that was earmarked for the left post. William Hesmer made a diving stop with his right hand to set up the corner kick.
Sturgis whipped the ball into the middle of the goal for a header by Montero that Hesmer blocked. But the keeper was unable to deny Nkufo, who bundled the ricocheted ball into the net from close range.
The action increased after the goal and the Crew had opportunities to get the equalizer over the next seven minutes. Seattle keeper Kasey Keller got his right mitt on Eddie Gaven’s low drive in the seventh and Guillermo Barros Schelotto sprung Steven Lenhart deep into the box in the 11th. However, Lenhart’s attempt to the far post missed the left stick.
The misses haunted the Crew in the 39th minute, when Nkufo doubled Seattle’s lead. The Swiss international rounded Kevin Burns and beat Hesmer with a slotted ball into the lower right corner from the left side of the box.
Then Montero and Nyassi played give-and-go down the right flank. O’Rourke was forced to grab Nyassi and the penalty was whistled.
Nkufo completed the hat trick in the second half with the aid of a nice set up from Zakuani and a dummy from Montero, who had one of his best games of the season. The final goal sent many to the exits, and sent Seattle home buoyant and firmly in line for a playoff spot.
Seattle are at Monterrey of Mexico on Wednesday in a CONCACAF Champions League match. Their next MLS game is Sept. 25 at Chicago.
The Crew return to CONCACAF Champions League play on Tuesday when they host Mexico's Santos Laguna. Their next league match is Sept. 25 at New England.
SEA – Blaise Nkufo 1 (unassisted) 4’
SEA – Blaise Nkufo 2 (unassisted) 39’
SEA – Nathan Sturgis 1 (penalty kick) 42’
SEA – Blaise Nkufo 3 (Steve Zakuani) 75’
SEA – Zach Scott (caution: Reckless tackle, 77’)
SEA – Jeff Parke (caution: Reckless tackle, 90’)
SEA – Kasey Keller; Zach Scott, Jeff Parke, Patrick Ianni, Leo Gonzalez; Steve Zakuani (Roger Levesque, 87’), Nathan Sturgis, Osvaldo Alonso, Sanna Nyassi (Alvaro Fernandez, 66’); Fredy Montero, Blaise Nkufo Nate Jaqua, 77’).
COLUMBUS – William Hesmer; Frankie Hejduk, Chad Marshall, Andy Iro, Danny O’Rourke; Kevin Burns (Emilio Renteria, 64’), Brian Carroll, Eddie Gaven, Emmanuel Ekpo (Andres Mendoza, 72’); Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Steven Lenhart.
Referee: Jair Marrufo
Referee's Assistants: Joe Fletcher, Brian Poeschel
4th Official: Chris Penso
Weather: Partly cloudy, 80 degrees