Will Blaise Nkufo's Heavy Workload Be a Big Concern for Seattle Sounders?

Ash MarshallSenior Analyst IMarch 4, 2010

BASEL, SWITZERLAND - AUGUST 12: Blaise Nkufo of Swtzerland looks on during the International Friendly between Switzerland and Italy at St. Jakob-Park on August 12, 2009 in Basel, Switzerland.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

The Seattle Sounders today announced they have signed Swiss international Blaise Nkufo from Dutch club FC Twente.

Nkufo will play out the rest of the season in Europe before heading out to the World Cup in June, and he is expected to join the Sounders by the middle of July, halfway through the MLS campaign.

Even though the Sounders knew they would only have the veteran striker for 15 or 16 games in 2010, they were not reluctant in pulling the trigger on the deal. 34-year-old Nkufo said he will be ready and raring to go when he lands on the West Coast, but I have serious concerns about him burning out.

Nkufo has played in 213 league games for FC Twente in the last seven seasons, an average of 30 a year, including 122 games in the last four-and-a-half seasons since turning 30 years old.

That’s not including other club competitions or international matches.

This season alone, he has appeared in 10 games in the UEFA Europa League, two Champions League qualifying games, and five matches for Switzerland.

Twente have eight fixtures left in Holland’s Eredivisie, including a crunch match on March 20 against league leaders PSV Eindhoven, and regardless of whether Nkufo and his club wins the Dutch championship, he will have at least three more games this summer for Switzerland in the World Cup in June.

While Spain are clear favorites to top Group H, Switzerland and Chile will essentially be competing for second place and a quarterfinal contest with the Group of Death winner—which could be any one of Brazil, Portugal, or Ivory Coast.

What this means is that Nkufo could have played in 31 league games, 12 games in club competitions, five international matches, and at least three more World Cup matches before he even makes his first start for the Sounders.

Assuming Switzerland does not make the knockout stages of the World Cup in South Africa, Nkufo could be available for the Sounders for their trip to LA Galaxy on July 4.

He will have missed 14 league games for Seattle, but he could still theoretically rack up 69 games this year. Don’t even think about the fact that the Sounders will be playing in the Open Cup and Champions League, too.

He says he played enough matches last year to know his body can cope with the stress of that many games, but the fact is, he hasn’t.

How many players, even players in their mid-20s, do you know who can play in upwards of 70 competitive games in 13 months?

He will turn 35 years old before the World Cup starts, and the Sounders should be worried about the miles he will have racked up before he even throws on his new green and blue jersey.

There is no doubt that Nkufo is a proven goalscorer: He has scored 111 league goals in the Eredivisie—an incredible strike rate of more than one every other game—and he netted 20 goals in 51 games in the top two flights of the Bundesliga before his move to Twente.

In fact, prior to the 2009-10 season, Nkufo was the top scorer on the club in each of his first six years. He scored 22 goals in back-to-back seasons in 2006 and 2007 and he has never failed to net double-digit goals since his move from German side Hannover in 2003.

But it is unrealistic to expect Nkufo to come in to a new team, surround himself with new personnel and a new system midway through an unfamiliar season, and perform to the best of his abilities.

Freddy Montero will no doubt benefit from Nkufo’s presence up top, as will Nate Jaqua, who showed he is more than capable in front of goal from his time at Chicago and, more recently, Houston. The duo will carry the bulk of the scoring workload until Nkufo arrives, at which point Sigi Schmid will then have to tweak his roster.

It will also give Freddie Ljungberg and Steve Zakuani more attacking options from the midfield, and while Nkufo hasn't got blazing speed, he knows how to hold the ball up, create space, and—most importantly—put the ball between the posts.

Blaise Nkufo is an exciting addition to the team and his veteran presence will be a welcome asset to the club. But temper your expectations for the 2010 season—his true value will come in 2011 when, with fresh legs under him, he will shine in front of appreciative fans at Qwest Field.


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