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Nkufo to Make Seattle Sounders Debut; Keller to Get Day Off

Bill HareCorrespondent IJuly 18, 2010

BASLE, SWITZERLAND - SEPTEMBER 05:  Blaise Nkufo of Switzerland during the FIFA 2010 World Cup Qualifying Group 2 match between Switzerland and Greece at the St.Jakob-Park Stadium on September 5, 2009 in Basle, Switzerland.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Michael Steele/Getty Images

Seattle Sounders Coach Sigi Schmid following the final team workout Saturday prior to Sunday’s nationally televised home friendly against Scotland’s Celtic FC said the words that soccer fans have been waiting so long to hear.

“We do feel confident that Blaise (Nkufo) will give his debut tomorrow,” Schmid said, “so it will be a nice day from that standpoint.”

In a joint teleconference with Nkufo Thursday in the District of Columbia the afternoon of the team’s crucial MLS match with D.C. United, Schmid revealed that Nkufo had just experienced his first workout with the team the day before, but was unsure whether he would see action that night.

Based on the limited amount of work Nkufo had in the form of the one workout after joining the team following a post-World Cup break, it was a certainty that the team’s new star player would not start.

Ultimately Schmid decided that holding out Nkufo would be the proper decision and so he watched the 1-0 victory over D.C. from the bench.

Now, having returned with the team to Seattle and obtaining more work, Schmid is prepared to put Nkufo on the pitch against Celtic FC.

The Sounders’ coach returned to the subject of Nkufo in the course of discussing the team’s busy July Schedule:

“It (the Celtic FC match) makes our seventh game in 21 days, so it’s a bit of soccer. But it is what it is. It comes along at this stage. We got some guys who haven’t played a lot of minutes. It gives them an opportunity to play.

“It also gives us the opportunity to get Blaise (Nkufo) out there, which is nice. So from that standpoint, it doesn’t come at the worst time and then we have got a week before we play Colorado, so that’s nice.”

Nkufo’s debut provides added interest for the Celtic FC matchup. In addition to recently performing for Switzerland in the World Cup, the 34-year-old player set an all-time scoring record at his last professional club, FC Twente in the Dutch League.

Kasey Keller sustained a right mid-front sprain in the second half of the 1-0 win over D.C. United. The veteran goalkeeper earned his fifth clean sheet of the MLS campaign while achieving five saves and finished the game despite the injury.

“Keller won’t play tomorrow,” Schmid said. “We are going to try and let him have some rest. He said it felt much, much better today. So we don’t think it’s like what he had at the end of last year, so we feel good about that.”

The coach then focused on the subject of the playing status of Nate Jaqua.

“(With) Jaqua, it’s just a day to day thing but the likelihood of him playing tomorrow is small, if at all,” Schmid revealed.

With Nkufo joining the ranks as a designated player, speculation continues to mount whether a trade may be in the works for Freddie Ljungberg. The Swedish midfielder also falls into the designated player category.

The Ljungberg speculation is further enhanced by the fact that the Sounders have been moving toward a youth-oriented midfield. Ljungberg missed both the FC Dallas and D.C. United games due to an ankle injury.

“I gave Freddie the weekend off,” Schmid said. “I know that we weren’t going to use him this weekend with the situation he was in. And so I just told him to have a weekend.”

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