Blaise Nkufo silenced most of his critics last week when he scored his first three goals of his Sounders career. For his encore, he may have earned himself a cult following.
The Swiss national team player scored a 88' goal, collecting a pass from Steve Zakuani, deftly cutting the ball off the endline and then getting a bit lucky when his shot ricocheted off the outstretched leg of veteran defender C.J. Brown. It was the kind of play only world-class goal scorers seem to make and illustrated perfectly the importance of putting shots on frame.
Fredy Montero did not score, but was as active as we've seen him all year. On offense, he actually seemed to be playing on top of Nkufo much of the time -- allowing Nkufo to hover around the penalty box -- but dropped back into more of a 4-5-1 on defense. He was constantly jumping into passing lanes and seemed to be even more willing to pass than normal, which probably had a lot to do with the fact that he was getting the ball much farther back than normal. It's not necessarily how I want to see Montero used every week, but in a game like this where a tie was enough, it really shows his maturation from a player who if he wasn't scoring was verging on invisible.
The Sounders were far from dominant, but they did play a classic road-game counter-attacking style. They knew the Fire could not afford to settle for a tie and the Sounders finally were able to exploit some of their opponent's aggressiveness. Jeff Parke, Patrick Ianni and Osvaldo Alonso were at the top of their game, mostly limiting any Fire opportunities. When they weren't up to the task -- such as Marco Pappa's first-half strike from about eight yards out and Freddie Ljungberg's slicing shot from the edge of the penalty area -- Kasey Keller once again was able to bail them out.
The victory puts the Sounders at 39 points, even with San Jose, two points ahead of Colorado (pending tonight's result), six points up on Kansas City, eight points ahead of Toronto and, if it even matters anymore, 13 ahead of Chicago.
With four matches left to play, the Sounders probably need to find at least three more points. A victory at home next week over Toronto FC would fit that bill perfectly.
Quotes and stats after the jump