The Target Forward Dilemma: Is Nkufo Worth the DP Slot?

Oh! Look! It's Nate Jaqua!

(Seriously, though, this looks more like last year's Nate Jaqua. When Nate came back from injury this year, I decided he'd been the victim of an alien abduction and had been replaced by a creature who looked like Nate, acted like Nate, but... I mean... Oh, come on. He headed in two goals in the LA Galaxy USOC game! And he looked almost graceful doing it! You can't tell me this is the same Nate Jaqua who was here last year.)

But anyhoo. The big debate in the blogosphere these days is about the other big target guy. Saint Blaise Nkufo, the guy everybody decided would be our savior earlier in the season when nothing was going right. The guy who was going to start scoring the goals. Which hasn't yet happened.

If you read the forums, you know that discussion is all over the map on whether he'll acclimate and start scoring the goals he was brought in to score, or whether this is even necessary for him to help the team. This seems to be an extremely polarizing topic; folks seem to be divided into Nkufo-lovers, Nkufo-haters, and too-soon-to-tellers.

Consider me in the final category. I consider myself like Juliet Capulet when her parents set out to arrange her marriage to a guy she didn't know. (Oh, come on. Transport yourself back to ninth grade.) "I look to like," is what she said. And that's kind of how I feel. I'm looking to like the guy, and hoping my hopes aren't misplaced.

Like everybody, I was hoping that the guy would leap into scoring right away, like Alvaro Fernandez did. But that was probably not realistic, given that the MLS style of play is a lot different from what he's used to in Europe. Not to mention that he just finished a long season in the Eredivisie and a trip to South Africa, and he's 35 years old and probably needed some recovery time. What's actually happened was probably more realistic: he's taking some time to settle in.

Yet even though he has yet to break his duck (LOVE that expression,) he does seem to be getting more comfortable. On Saturday I thought he looked fairly good despite that whole not scoring thing. He's very skilled with his back to goal and good at distributing the ball. He seems to have a good eye for what else is going on the field. He draws defenders, giving guys like Montero more room to maneuver.

(On a closely-related topic, great discussion over on Sounder at Heart today on the mistakes Chicago made in using a high defensive line to try to counteract the Nkufo target forward threat, which left them vulnerable to Seattle's speed players like Nyassi, Zakuani and Montero. You need to read it if you haven't already. Having a proven target guy on the field can create opportunities even when he's not the one taking advantage of them.)

What all this means is that he hasn't been the disaster that the naysayers like to claim he's been. Yet at the same time, he's not scoring the goals he was brought in to score. At least not yet.

So from my perspective, the jury's still out. CONCACAF Champions League aside, the team is getting results with him on the field, so there's no real reason to not give him chances as he and the team continue to get used to each other. And when it comes to the goal thing, a lot of scoring is mental, even with experienced players; scoring goals can lead to scoring more goals.

He's on the team through the year, at least, and we're continuing to win with him on the pitch. He may still prove that he's worth that DP money.

(But I'm hoping the baby giraffe will continue to wait in the wings. Just in case.)

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