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Hope rears its head in Tukwila

Practice went a little longer than usual Tuesday, a not-so-subtle message from coach Sigi Schmid that performances like Saturday's 4-0 loss are not acceptable.

Another not-so-subtle message from the training session: The presence of Nate Jaqua and Blaise N'Kufo, and what those two players can do to help the Sounders resurrect their season.

Jaqua, who has missed each of the first eight games with an injury to his core and groin areas, participated in practice for the first time this season. Afterward, he said he felt relatively fine and is hoping to be ready to play in the San Jose match.

"Everyday it feels better," Jaqua said. "As long as we keep heading in that direction, next week I should be able to go full out."

Jaqua is coming off a career year in which he scored nine goals and assisted on seven others. Those numbers are, without question, sorely missed on a team that is averaging barely a goal per game currently.

Still, the eventual arrival of N'Kufo -- perhaps as soon as July 15 -- promises something even more enticing. N'Kufo is a proven international goal scorer, netting 114 for his Dutch team over seven years, as well as a proven winner after leading FC Twente to its first ever title this season.

"As a striker, (the fans) can expect lots of goals," N'Kufo said after practice. "I need my players and lots of crossing passes. But know what I can do for this team and I'm going to be focused on my skills. What I have done in the past is what I wish to do for the Sounders."

Before N'Kufo can start doing those things in Seattle, he will first suit up for his home country of Switzerland in the World Cup. At 34 years old, there will certainly be those who wonder whether he'll have much left in the tank by the time he arrives.

N'Kufo doesn't seem particularly worried.

"The last few years, I've played so many games," he said. "I'm fit, fit enough to keep playing for the Sounders after the World Cup."

Several months ago, hardly anyone in Seattle outside of the most avid followers of European soccer had ever heard of N'Kufo.

Now, N'Kufo can't get here fast enough for understandably impatient Sounders fans. Showcasing another trait Sounders fans will be happy to see, N'Kufo welcomes that kind of anticipation.

"Of course people have expectations," he said. "But my expectations of myself are higher than fans or anybody here. I know I have to work hard to show what I can do. I have a name, of course, but I am starting from ... how do you say? zero? ... Zero. I know it's not going to be simple, but I'm ready."

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