TUKWILA, Wash. - Sounders FC fans have grown accustomed to hearing about "big splash activity" during the off-season and it finally hit on Thursday when the club announced the signing of Dutch FC Twente and Swiss international star Blaise Nkufo.
“We’re obviously very excited. Blaise is a player that we’ve been keeping our eyes on for quite a while now,” Sounders FC owner/general manager Adrian Hanauer said. “He’s a big strong presence in the middle and he gives us a slightly different look than we currently have. He is also a player of tremendous character, and will contribute his knowledge and leadership to our team.”
Nkufo made a trip to Seattle recently and was impressed by the Sounders FC organization, starting from Hanauer and head coach Sigi Schmid.
“Adrian gave me a very good impression about the club. I have a really good feeling about the club and the people involved with the club. That's why I chose Seattle. I'm really happy to come to this club,” Nkufo said. “Sigi likes playing football and he has experience with European soccer players. That's another reason I chose to come. He gave me a good feeling.”
At 6-foot-2 inches, Nkufo strikes quite the imposing figure. That has helped him to over 200 career goals in club and international play.
“He’s a proven goal-scorer who has had a good run with the Swiss National Team in their qualifying for the World Cup,” Schmid said. “He’s had a tremendous run at Twente and is a player that knows how to find space in the box at appropriate moments.”
The Sounders started discussions with Nkufo several months ago, but were unable to secure a transfer before the transfer window closed January 31. Instead, he is scheduled to join the team July 15 after the World Cup.
Born in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), Nkufo moved to Switzerland at a young age and played professionally there until 2001, with the exception of one season with Al-Arabi in Qatar. He then made the move to Germany’s second division with FCV Mainz. After two seasons with Mainz and one with Hannover, he signed with FC Twente in 2003 and became a staple on their scoresheet over the next seven seasons. He has since become the club’s all-time leading scorer with 129 goals in all competitions.
Nkufo has 27 caps with the Swiss National Team, scoring seven international goals, including five in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.
Twente currently sits one point behind PSV Eindhoven in the Eredivisie (Dutch league) standings. Their season concludes May 2, at which point, Nkufo’s focus will turn to Switzerland and the World Cup.
Though the Sounders knew that Nkufo would be unavailable until July, that did not deter Hanuaer from signing him early.
“There was certainly no hesitation in signing him knowing that he would be coming in after the World Cup,” Hanauer said. “We’re very comfortable with July 15. I think it will be a good injection of energy and another quality player into the team at that point.”
Schmid was even optimistic that the midseason acquisition will provide a burst of energy at a time when the Sounders may need it most.
“You’d always like to add a player at the beginning of the season, but because of how our calendar works and the way the calendar works internationally, that’s not always possible. But it’s better to add him in July than to not add him at all,” Schmid said. “Sometimes when those dog days hit and with additional games on the schedule with the CONCACAF Champions League comes, that gives us an additional proven player that should make our July, August, September and October much better than it was last year.”
The Sounders FC will have 14 games remaining in their MLS schedule after the World Cup final on July 11, beginning with a July 15 match on the road against DC United. Additionally, they are scheduled to start CONCACAF Champions League in late July. He won’t officially join the roster until then, so the club won’t have to make any adjustments to the existing roster until he arrives in July.
When he does arrive, Schmid says the Sounders will be acquiring a striker who plays much like another player who has come from a largely successful career in Europe.
“I would say he’s like a Juan Pablo Angel - somebody who has good presence and good size and can hold up play for your team, but has clever movement inside the penalty box,” Schmid said. “He’s not going to run away from you, but he knows how to open up those angles when the Ljungbergs and the Monteros and the Zakuanis free up a little bit of space and are looking for someone to lay off to.”
The Sounders FC open the season three weeks from today on March 25 against the Philadelphia Union at Qwest Field. Kickoff for the sold-out, nationally televised game on ESPN2 is 6:30 pm PT.