Forward Blaise Nkufo signed with Sounders FC and will join team this summer after he has fulfilled commitments to club and national teams.
TUKWILA — The Sounders FC announced the signing Thursday of a strong, established goal-scorer from Europe who also has international experience.
For a team that struggled to score consistently last season, adding 34-year-old striker Blaise Nkufo from Holland’s FC Twente could be the final ingredient in Seattle’s championship recipe. But there’s a catch.
Nkufo won’t join the team until after the World Cup this summer in South Africa, where he will play for the Swiss national team. The delayed debut, however, didn’t stop players and coaches from raving about the new signing.
“He’s got a record that speaks for itself,” said midfielder Steve Zakuani. “The fact that he is playing in the World Cup is a good achievement. … I’m excited for that, to get a chance to play with that kind of player. He’s going to help our team.”
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Nkufo signed an 18-month contract with an option for another year, according to general manager Adrian Hanauer. At the earliest, the 6-foot-2 forward could play in Seattle’s July 15th road game against D.C. United.
Nkufo has scored more than 200 goals in his career, which includes 29 international appearances. The offensive production will be a welcome sight for Sounders FC, which led Major League Soccer in goals allowed last season with 29, but finished with a mediocre 38 goals scored.
“We felt as though we didn’t finish as well as we could have, should have, last year,” Hanauer said.
During a conference call at the Starfire Sports Complex, Nkufo said he is excited to move his family to Seattle and even praised the team’s fans for influencing his decision to sign.
“What I saw is that they’re great fans. They almost have 30,000 fans average,” said Nkufo, who was born in Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo). “The expectations are very high and they really support the team. For me, also, it was a key. That’s why I decided to come.”
Along with his ability, Hanauer also praised the selfless personality of Nkufo, who visited the team in December. Hanauer said complimenting a player’s character is “overstated” these days in sports, but something that Nkufo deserves.
“This is a man who to me sort of symbolizes what sport and the game is about,” Hanauer said. “An unbelievably good man. A family man. A smart man very interested in the world, in sport, in doing the right things for community, in doing the right things for team.”
Sounders FC captain Kasey Keller said Nkufo could add more than just goals to the team. Having another experienced veteran on the roster would be a benefit to Seattle’s youth, particularly on offense.
“No question about it. … I think he can give a lot to our young players,” Keller said.
But with experience, also comes the worry of age.
Nkufo will remain with Twente throughout the remainder of the Dutch Cup and Eredivisie league season, which ends in May. Combined with the travel and the training required for the World Cup, there is concern about fatigue.
Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid, however, said he isn’t nervous.
“Everyone says he’s in superb shape,” Schmid said. “He’s a great professional in regards to taking care of himself, so age for us is not a factor.”
Nkufo also dismissed concerns about his fitness level.
“The last years I’ve proved that I can play a lot of games in Europe,” said Nkufo, who has also played in Switzerland, Qatar and Germany. “I do believe I can do that. Of course I think I will need time to adapt maybe for the first games, but it should not be a problem.”
Nkufo has led Twente in scoring each of the past six seasons. The club is currently second in the league standings, one point behind leaders PSV Eindhoven, and has lost just once in its last 25 games.