On Fire: Blaise Ignites Seattle

Photo Courtesy of Jake Magraw Photography
Photo Courtesy of Jake Magraw Photography

The arrival was greatly anticipated. Fans buzzed about their expectations all over the Pacific Northwest, from bars and local grocery stores, to their children’s sporting events and family barbeques. Not a single evergreen tree in the Emerald City had been excluded from overhearing the infectious news.

His name was Nkufo—Blaise, to be exact. And the relative happiness of an entire region rested exactly six feet and two inches above the ground, square on his conscious. A large task, yes, but certainly not out of reach for the globally recognized African.

On July 18 at 12 in the afternoon, the commotion was momentarily silenced when Seattle Sounders FC devotees realized the starting lineup against Celtic FC, would star their potential hero. Nfuko stepped onto the Qwest Field pitch wearing the familiar celestial green jersey, ready to give fans and skeptics alike a little taste of the champion-way.

Almost immediately, the dynamics of the club were affected. Sounders players, who had recently been working harder during games, ran quicker to the ball, maintained determination for goals and demonstrated their true talents to the 30,0000-plus spectators present. For those 90 minutes versus a friendly-match team, the Sounders were reborn. With a mere 120 seconds on the board, Nkufo and Miguel Montano partnered for a cross and shot but was missed wide by Montano. Again in the 10th minute, but this time an excellent pass from Fredy Montero to Nfuko was interrupted by a rough push from a Celtic defender, who subsequently cleared the ball. Seattle player’s love for the whole experience of soccer seemed to be resurrected by the powerful strides of their newest teammate. Although, the home team lost the game 2-1, much was won in the process. Nkufo provided his new club with a renewed sense of spirit, energy and passion for beautiful fútbol in the 3,600 seconds he contributed.

With his skill, comes a story of persistence, tenacity and raw dedication that has earned many accolades. Nkufo was born in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo on May 25, 35 years ago. When he was seven, his family immigrated to Switzerland where he became an official citizen at the age of 20. Two years before, an Nkufo signed with Lausanne Sport in 1993, which marked the beginning of his professional soccer career. Despite playing for only one season and then moving to FC Echallens, Al-Arabi and Yverdon FC, Nkufo re-signed with the Swiss team in 1997. For the preceding six years, he moved around from team to team, including Grasshopper-Club in Zurich, AC Lugano, FC Lucerne, and ending with two German teams Mainz and Hannover. During his most successful and stable signing with the Netherlands team FC Twente (2003), the physically intimidating striker found himself with the coveted title of top-scorer for six consecutive years on their roster. In 2002, Switzerland’s FIFA World Cup team welcomed him onto their lineup, allowing many nations and coaches to become familiar with the fresh name “Nkufo”; even though he did not make the 2006 national team, 2010 was another chance seized by the right-footer when he officially represented the Swiss in South Africa. March 2010 was the month that Nkufo committed to playing Major League Soccer under Sigi Schmid’s coaching.

And here we are now, in late July, with players who have a restored focus and fans who have a new reason to support the Sounders. The soccer season may be halfway over, but for a select few-hundred thousand individuals, it has just begun.