COLUMBUS, OHIO - It was a night of firsts for the Sounders FC.
Blaise Nkufo scored his first MLS goal after a record-setting career with FC Twente.
He would go on to cap the most prolific offensive night in Sounders FC history with the club’s first hat-trick.
Nathan Sturgis converted the first penalty kick in Seattle’s MLS history. It was also his first MLS goal after 57 matches in five seasons.
Mix in Kasey Keller’s tenth shutout of the season in a brilliant performance in front of the net and the Sounders FC walked out of Crew Stadium with a 4-0 victory over the Eastern Conference leading Columbus Crew.
“I think that’s the best attacking performance we’ve had,” Keller said. “We’ve been a bit disappointed with our ruthlessness up front. We’ve created enough chances to do this to a few other teams and we haven’t done it. They have guys that are going to get their chances, but we battled well.”
Nkufo got the Sounders off to a fast start with his first MLS goal. Sturgis swung in a corner kick from the left side and Fredy Montero attacked for a near post header, but Crew goalkeeper Will Hesmer was there for the save. However, the ball bounced right back to Nkufo who had his first effort rebuked. His next effort, though, blistered the back of the net for a 1-0 lead in the fourth minute.
“I’m a striker. That’s my job, scoring goals. That’s what I’ve done the last ten years and I’m here to do that,” Nkufo said. “I still need to work harder for myself and to help the team.”
For Nkufo, who tallied 114 goals over seven for his previous club in Holland, it was a breakout result. Though the Sounders were an unbeaten 4-0-1 in his first five MLS starts, the striker had yet to tally his first goal for Seattle.
All that changed with his persistency in front of the net early in the match, setting the tone for the rest of his night.
“Any time a goal-scorer scores, it’s huge. They sometimes measure their games by different standards,” Schmid said. “I tell him that he’s still helping us, but in his mind, he’s not scoring goals so he’s not going to be happy. For him, getting three goals tonight was very important for his confidence and his own self-value.”
He followed that up with a great strike in the 39th minute. Zach Scott crossed a ball from the right sideline that went through a crowded penalty box to Nkufo on the far side. He carried it into the six-yard box and beat his defender and Hesmer with a left-footed shot to lift Seattle to a 2-0 lead.
“There was a period of time where they took the game to us and we ended up scoring a goal against the run of play,” Schmid said. “But that’s what good teams do. Even when another team dominates you have to find your moments.”
The scoring in the first half didn’t stop there though.
Before the traveling Sounders FC fans could stop celebrating Nkufo’s goal, Sanna Nyassi was pulled down in the box for a penalty.
Sturgis blasted the shot to the low left corner, beating Hesmer, who guessed the opposite direction to give the Sounders FC a 3-0 lead going into the halftime break.
“It makes a huge difference on games when you’re putting away your chances,” Sturgis said. “That’s what we did tonight and it opened up other things.”
Columbus came out firing in the second half, but Keller would not be beaten, determinedly punching away shot after shot and keeping the clean sheet through four second-half saves, including several from point-blank range.
“It definitely takes the stress off when you’re making saves with a three-goal cushion,” Keller said. “We didn’t put ourselves under that pressure where if we conceded a goal they would be coming at us. I made some saves and defensively, I thought the guys played great in front of me.”
In the 75th minute, Nkufo notched his third goal of the night. Steve Zakuani deked around Crew defender Frankie Hejduk to get to the endline, then crossed for the middle. Montero dummied the ball through for Nkufo, who rocketed it past Hesmer for the hat-trick and a 4-0 lead that would hold to the final whistle.
“Now he’s got the monkey off his back,” Zakuani said. “The finishes were unbelievable. That’s what he came here and we’re happy he did it.”
The win moved the Sounders FC to 10-9-6, lifting them to a tie with the San Jose Earthquakes in the Western Conference standings. Columbus falls to 13-7-5 (44 points), but maintain a stranglehold on the top spot in the East.
“It’s huge for us,” Schmid said. “It was great for us to get three points. We want to make the playoffs and to do that you have to get points.”
Seattle’s next MLS match comes next Saturday against the faltering Chicago Fire, who suffered a 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake Saturday to fall to 6-9-8 (26 points) on the year.
First, though, they head to Mexico to face Monterrey in the CONCACAF Champions League Wednesday night. If Saturday night’s performance was any indication, a first win in CONCACAF just may be on the horizon.
Sounders FC - Blaise Nkufo 4; Nkufo 39; Nathan Sturgis (PK) 42; Nkufo (Steve Zakuani) 75.
Crew - None.
Sounders FC - Kasey Keller, Zach Scott, Jeff Parke, Patrick Ianni, Leo Gonzalez, Sanna Nyassi (Alvaro Fernandez 66), Osvaldo Alonso, Nathan Sturgis, Steve Zakuani (Roger Levesque 87), Fredy Montero, Blaise Nkufo (Nate Jaqua 79).
Crew - Will Hesmer, Frankie Hejduk, Andy Iro, Chad Marshall, Danny O’Rourke, Kevin Burns (Emilio Renteria 64), Brian Carroll, Emmanuel Ekpo (Andres Mendoza 72), Eddie Gaven, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Steven Lenhart.