The Blaise Nkufo era begins soon for the Sounders FC.
The 35-year-old Swiss striker joined the team in Washington, D.C., Tuesday and trained on Wednesday while the Sounders prepare to face DC United Thursday night at RFK Stadium.
“I’m really happy to be back on the field and I’m ready to play the next months,” Nkufo said.
Nkufo comes to the Sounders fresh off his appearance in the 2010 World Cup with Switzerland, where they went 1-1-1 including a 1-0 victory over eventual champion and FIFA world No. 1 Spain. He took two weeks off before coming to DC to join his new team.
“Well, it was my first training session today after 15 days off,” Nkufo said. “I’m going to work on my own and, of course, I want to be a part of the team and playing tomorrow.”
In his last club experience, he played for FC Twente in the Dutch League. For FC Twente, he scored 114 goals in seven seasons. He was so beloved in Enschede, Holland, that they erected a statue in his honor outside Twente’s stadium over the weekend. So while the expectations of fans may be high for Nkufo, he can understandably have high expectations for the fans of Seattle - who already come with a great reputation league-wide - once he arrives.
“I think the team and the players have big expectations, too,” Nkufo said. “We have to just find the way to be back in better position for the team and to deal with the expectation.”
While the Sounders are 4-8-4, Schmid warns against laying too high of an expectation on Nkufo and his impact on the team.
“One player is never the savior. It’s the team as a whole, how they perform and how the group plays and as you add different parts to that, the team obviously can improve,” Schmid said. “For us right now, there’s enough games, there’s enough points there and our expectations are to build upon what we did in the Dallas game, continue to play an aggressive style of soccer, going forward and trying to create chances. With the addition of Blaise, we get an experienced forward who likes to get service from the flanks and knows how to position himself in the box. So I think at key moments that’s certainly going to help us and then we can live up to our expectations, which are just as high as the fans.”
Nkufo will need his international transfer clearance before he can play with Seattle, but he could play as soon as Thursday. How much he will play, though, is still in the air.
“At this point, how many minutes he plays is something we are still talking about. I don’t see Blaise starting at this point because today was his first time with our team and we want to make sure we present a good opportunity to him and the team,” Schmid said. “But, certainly, we see how the game goes and we’ll see if the situation is right for him to enter the game and for him to have an impact on the game.”
Schmid also clarified that Nkufo and his teammates will take time to adjust to each other on the field and off.
“Blaise is going to get a look at his teammates, and he’s going to find a way to mesh with those teammates. It’s a two way street: the team adapts to him, but he also adapts to the team,” Schmid said. “The way you are a successful team is when everybody tries to help all their teammates do what they’re best at. And if they do that successfully then you get good results.”
Kickoff is slated for 5 pm Pacific Time Thursday night against DC United. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN2.