Both Chicago and Seattle readily conceded that Blaise Nkufo’s 88th-minute winner Saturday night was fortunate.
Freddie Ljungberg called the goal “lucky” when viewed in the larger scope of the game. Nkufo himself didn’t dispute that assessment, saying he got a “lucky with the deflection” on his only shot on goal.
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“I received the ball on the left side, and I battled physically with the defenders,” Nkufo said. “The goal was open and basically got lucky on the deflection, but I’ve scored many goals like that in my career.”
If Seattle have indeed been lucky, perhaps Nkufo has been the good luck charm. After a hat trick last weekend against the Columbus Crew, the Swiss striker has four goals in two matches and has lifted the scoring load from the shoulders of Fredy Montero.
He also gave Seattle another three points on the road, bringing Seattle that much closer to the playoffs.
With the 1-0 win on the road against the Fire on Saturday, Seattle pulled into a tie for sixth place with San Jose with 39 points.
With only one loss in their last 11 league matches (7-1-3, 24 points), Seattle have buoyed their playoff aspirations with a string of late victories. Only FC Dallas (6-0-5, 23 points) can match Seattle’s success over the past 11 games.
Good fortune has had something to do with it. During the Sounders’ streak, the club has won three times in the late stages, twice against Chicago and once against D.C. United.
“The key is with only a few games left we need to pick up as many points as we can to ensure that we get ourselves in the playoffs,” said goalkeeper Kasey Keller. “The last two away wins against Columbus and Chicago were huge because Kansas City keeps winning and San Jose keeps winning, so we know that we have to follow suit.”
It’s the second late-game victory over the Fire, who were victimized by a Montero header on Aug. 29. The late loss didn’t sit well with Ljungberg.
“We dominate the game totally and they get a lucky counterattack in the end,” he said. “If you look at us today, you see Seattle high on the table.
“If you look at how the game was played, we were by far the better team. They won a goal that happened because, as the table stands, we had to push forward and had to hunt the game.”
Seattle return home with a chance to climb farther up the MLS standings. After a two-week road trip that included flights to Costa Rica, Ohio, Mexico and, finally, Illinois, Seattle will be happy to stay in town for a while.
Even though the club chartered flights to Mexico and then to Chicago this week, the team didn’t get into Chicago until the early-morning hours on Thursday after flying directly after their Champions League game at Monterrey.
A mishap with the food for the plane delayed Seattle’s departure. When the club landed in Chicago, it was bussed to another part of the airport for customs. Seattle coach Sigi Schmid estimated that customs added another hour to the trip, saying he did not get to bed until 4 a.m.
“It’s been pretty impressive that we have to do that,” Schmid said of the nearly 18,000-mile September. “Sometimes the guys don’t even remember what their room numbers are; they’ve been in so many different hotel rooms.
“Again, to come out of this at the end of the trip and to be playing our fourth game in 13 days and to come out with a one-nothing win was huge.”
Finally back in the Pacific Northwest for an extended period of time, Seattle will play a pair of matches at Qwest Field this week.
The first is a Wednesday night Champions League match Marathón of Honduras. That match will likely be played by the reserves, as Seattle have another chance to cement their playoff spot with a Saturday-afternoon tilt against Toronto FC.