Seattle had been waiting for a game like that from Blaise Nkufo. Before Saturday’s three-goal explosion, the Swiss striker hadn’t scored in seven games in the Sounders’ starting lineup, a total of more than 500 minutes.
He had forced opposing goalkeepers into sprawling saves on occasion, true, 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.
He laid those suspicions to rest against Columbus.
“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 after the match. “We were not so confident after a few games and we needed the three points tonight.”
FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS
The smorgasbord of tallies should allay any fears regarding the veteran’s health. The variety of the three goals—the first an opportunistic tally off a goalmouth scramble, the second a skillful one-on-one situation before an excellent finish, the third a composed side-footer into the far side of the net—should give fans an indication that Seattle’s offense could become more dangerous.
Coach Sigi Schmid appeared to congratulate Nkufo after the player was substituted late in the match. Schmid is known for choosing his penalty-kick takers before the match begins, which explains why Nathan Sturgis, and not Nkufo, took a first-half penalty kick.
The Swiss international, who had already scored twice, was upset at being bypassed and denied his chance at a hat trick. There was ultimately no reason to worry as Nkufo got his third later in the match.
"Any time a goal-scorer scores, it's huge," Schmid said. "They sometimes measure their games by different standards than we do."
Nkufo, Keller, Schmid on hat trick
Whether or not he scores, Seattle play well with the former FC Twente striker on the field; the Sounders are now 5-0-1 when Nkufo starts in league matches. They also reinforced their position in the playoff race. With five games to go, Seattle sit five points ahead of Toronto FC for the eighth and last playoff bid.
The four-goal margin was Seattle’s largest-ever win and the first time the Sounders had ever scored four. Nkufo’s was also the first hat-trick in Sounders history.
The result adds extra spice to these two teams’ next meeting: the US Open Cup final on Oct. 5. That match will be played at Seattle’s Qwest Field, giving Columbus an opportunity to avenge a forgettable performance that equaled their worst-ever loss.