Shortly before MLS First Kick on Tuesday when the Sounders FC faced the LA Galaxy at Qwest Field, the Sounders FC announced a mutual parting of ways with striker Blaise Nkufo, ending the designated player’s stint with the club after 11 matches in league play.
After the match, owner and general manager Adrian Hanauer offered clarity on the situation in a meeting with the media.
“I think some of it is going to be left behind closed doors but, again, we sat down and it was mutual,” Hanauer said. “O'Brian White is starting to play well. Nate Jaqua is coming back from injury. Certainly from a team management standpoint, the cap and cap management is a big part of what we have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. There is a part to the league rules that says this has to be done before the beginning of the regular season. You can't do it a game or two or three in.”
The club is currently in negotiations with Major League Soccer and Nkufo to determine the exact mechanism by which the club and Nkufo will cut ties, however, the notion that Nkufo’s departure was acrimonious were flatly denied by both Hanauer and head coach Sigi Schmid.
Nkufo and Schmid met a few days prior to the match and the two came to the same conclusion - that neither was in the other’s future. None of that conversation, Schmid said, was related to playing time.
“It was just a mutual decision that it was probably good to move on at this stage, that it wasn't working in terms of his situation and our situation, but it was very mutual,” Schmid said. “There were no problems, there were no issues, there was no problem with professionalism or anything like that. He's a very professional player and he's a quality player, but after we met we realized that maybe at this time it was best to go on.”
The move clears a roster spot and $335,000 in salary cap space, allowing Seattle to pursue other designated player options now or in the summer when more players become available. The departures of Nkufo this season and Freddie Ljungberg last year won’t make Hanauer and the Sounders any less likely to sign another designated player. Though Hanauer said they will continue to use discretion when finding the right fit for the team.
“It's trickier than it looks. You can even go back through the history of DPs in this league and I'd say that there are less examples of huge successes than examples of failures,” Hanauer said, noting that Nkufo was successful with the Sounders in 2010.
While neither player saw the end of their contract with the Sounders, it could be easily argued that both Ljungberg and Nkufo were successful signings. The marketing piece of the puzzle aside, Ljungberg was undeniably key to Seattle’s run to the playoffs in 2009 and his two goals and nine assists earned him MLS Best XI honors. Nkufo, meanwhile, scored five goals in 11 MLS matches, including the club’s first ever hat trick. The Sounders were 8-1-2 with him in the starting lineup.
“Again, this was mutual, but it certainly was unlikely to happen if we didn't feel that ultimately we're going to be a better team in the long run,” Hanauer said. “From a timing standpoint my only true disappointment is that maybe this story gets more play than opening night and the great crowd and our fans."