SEATTLE – Lost in the flood of quotes after last night’s Seattle-Colorado match was this important nugget from Seattle striker Fredy Montero:
“I can come back and play a little bit more in the back and set up Blaise [Nkufo] and other people in the front.”
In Nkufo’s first match with the Seattle Sounders, Montero was likely the biggest beneficiary. He played a role in both goals scored by Steve Zakuani, earning an assist with the chip that triggered Sanna Nyassi’s cross and the subsequent game-winning goal.
Nkufo’s arrival allows Montero to maximize his contributions by playing as a setup man. With Montero pulling the strings, Seattle instantly becomes a drastically more dangerous team.
The Colombian has been playing as a high striker for most of his time in Seattle. Especially during the early part of this season, head coach Sigi Schmid demanded that Montero push up the field to occupy the other team’s central defenders and make hard runs into the penalty area.
That task, however, subjected Montero to even more punishment from the league’s rugged center backs and limited his contributions. It wasn’t successful, either, as Seattle often struggled despite controlling possession.
The forward, for all his talent, is a much better player when receiving the ball at his feet rather than attempting to convert crosses or win balls in the air. Now, with Nkufo filling that striker role and with Freddie Ljungberg not currently with the team, Montero’s free to float in the space between the opponent’s back line and midfield to either thread passes or shoot from distance, something he does extremely well.
As a matter of fact, Montero, who leads the team with eight assists and has notched a goal or an assist in the past seven matches, was in that in-between space when he found Nyassi streaking behind the Colorado defense.
According to goalkeeper Kasey Keller, Nkufo’s presence will help Seattle vary its attack in upcoming matches, adding an additional dimension to an attack that had only scored 18 goals in its first 17 games.
“To be able to have the opportunity to have the size of Blaise up front, then have Nate Jaqua come in off the bench or vice versa, or have them both on the field at the same time – it just gives us so many options,” Keller said. “With Blaise, you can see from his very first day he’ll do what the team needs.”
Simply put, the addition of Nkufo markedly improves the match between personnel and playing style.
“We need to get used to him a little more, we need to find him,” Schmid said of Nkufo. “Sometimes, early crosses can be a little more effective with him because he finds those spaces, those seams in between the central defenders, so that's something we've got to look for.”
Schmid believes the Swiss international, who has experienced soreness in the past two weeks as the team’s fitness staff attempts to get him back to 100 percent, will make even more noticeable contributions once he’s fully fit.
“He did everything I needed from him or wanted from him,” said Schmid, “and gave everything he had.”