Was it an impressive evening for the Seattle Sounders?
It was the team’s most impressive performance of the season and arguably the best overall in the history of its MLS franchise.
The broad-shouldered player served as the evening’s catalyst scoring the first three goals of his Sounders career in a stunning 4-0 shutout win. What made it all the more impressive was that he did it against the Eastern Conference leader, the Columbus Crew, and on its home turf before 17,144 patrons.
The Swiss World Cup performer Blaise Nkufo shot home three goals and silenced his impatient critics.
What they should have realized was that it was just a question of time before he secured his breakthrough. His midfield work was steady as his physicality and presence combined with an astute role as a facilitator aided the team’s effort.
Consider this fact—the Sounders are 5-0-1 in matches Nkufo started at forward.
Prior to joining the Sounders for active duty Nkufo received the supreme honor of having a statue of him unveiled in Enschede, where he set a scoring record with 111 goals in seven years for FC Twente in Eredivisie, Holland’s first division. When one adds the additional goals that he secured during that period for Switzerland in international play the number expands to a whopping 200.
The match began on a spirited note.
Both teams moved at a swift pace, determined to break on top first with a score as goalkeepers Kasey Keller of Seattle and William Hesmer of Columbus were called into immediate action.
Columbus is where Sigi Schmid had coached with great success before moving to Seattle. It's a team he notably does not wish to lose to for good reason, given his close Crew contacts. “You don’t want to lose to your friends because you hear about it more often,” Schmid has frequently noted.
Nkufo broke the deadlock early en route to the first hat trick in Seattle franchise history.
It came in the 4th minute.
Nathan Sturgis whipped in a corner kick that Fredy Montero headed into the chest of Crew goalkeeper Hesmer. Nkufo knocked the rebound past Hesmer for his first goal as a Sounder. Nkufo’s goal tied the mark for earliest in club history that was set by Steve Zakuani on May 1 of this season against Columbus in the team's Seattle meeting.
Nkufo’s scoring had interesting timing. The first tally came early in the match, his second in the middle phase, and his final score in its late stage.
His big night resumed with a goal in the 39th minute. The Swiss star took a cross from Sanna Nyassi, dribbled into the 6-yard box, and slid a left-footed shot into the corner of the net.
The red hot Sounders were not about to stop there during perhaps the best first stanza in the club’s history. Just three minutes later Nyassi was taken down in the box by Crew defender Danny O'Rourke.
Sturgis stepped up and buried the shot.
Sturgis' score produced two more records on a historic record setting night. His boot into the low left corner was the first penalty kick score in team history while tying a record for most first half goals.
The other time that Seattle produced a 3-0 halftime lead was at home this season against the New England Revolution. This feat was more impressive considering that it came against a team currently leading its conference who entered the contest with a glossy 13-6-5 mark and 44 points playing on its home pitch.
Columbus came out for the second half determined to turn things around after having been wounded before its home faithful. It struck repeatedly, but an alert Kasey Keller chalked up 5 goals while several second efforts just missed the mark.
It was one of those evenings when destiny was wearing Seattle blue.
This was Keller’s 50th consecutive MLS start. The shutout was his 10th, delineating a clean sheet every fifth match.
Nkufo set the franchise hat trick mark and became the fourth player this season to reach that milestone in the 75th minute. Steve Zakuani beat the Crew defense to the end line and found Nkufo at the top of the box.
Nkufo blasted a right-footed shot into the top corner of the net for the game's final goal.
Seattle held an advantage in shots of 16-14 and an 8-5 edge on goal. The seven first half shots on goal set one more club record.
The Sounders lead the all-time series with the Crew 2-0-2. The clubs will lock horns again in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final on October 5 on the Xbox Pitch at Qwest Field.
The victory put Sounders FC in a tie for fourth in the Western Conference. The triumph was its first on the road since July 31. Seattle‘s MLS seasonal record stands at 10-9-6 with 36 points.
Seattle continues CONCACAF Champions League group stage play when it visits Mexico's Monterrey on Wednesday at 5 p.m. PT. The match will be televised nationally on Fox Soccer Channel. Sounders FC concludes its four game road stretch next Saturday when it faces the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park with kickoff set for 5 p.m. PT.