Seattle Sounders FC parted ways with designated player Freddie Ljungberg on Friday, hours before an important Major League Soccer game tonight at San Jose.
The former Arsenal star, MLS Best XI selection and two-time All-Star midfielder was shipped to the Chicago Fire for a conditional pick in the 2011 or 2012 SuperDraft.
The move of such a high-profile player at a bargain price could be seen as confirmation that something went wrong.
However, Ljungberg was complimentary in a statement released by the club: “I want to start off by saying how proud I am to have been part of the most successful new franchise in MLS history, the Seattle Sounders FC. I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I first came to Seattle, but I have to say that how the city and the fans have embraced me has gone beyond my wildest dreams and for that I am forever grateful. … I have made some very close friends who I know I will be in contact with forever.”
General manager Adrian Hanauer cited reasons Ljungberg brought only a future college pick in return.
“One, you always want more in a trade than you get,” he said. “Two, in trades you get in some range of what the market calls the value. The … two biggest issues would probably be that Freddie has only a short period of time left on his contract … (and) there just aren’t that many teams, quite frankly, in our league that are either capable of taking on the salary on the cap or had appetite for taking on the salary aside from the cap – the cash out of pocket.”
The Fire will visit Seattle on Aug. 28, and Seattle will play at Chicago on Sept. 25.
Hanauer said he expects Ljungberg to be motivated for those matches.
“At the beginning of the year Freddie wanted a new contract. We weren’t willing to do it,” Hanauer said. “Then midseason came, he wanted a new contract, we weren’t willing to do it. He said, ‘Let me explore my options.’ ”
Ljungberg played in 37 matches with the Sounders, with 35 starts. He scored two goals and had 12 assists. However, only three assists – and no goals – came this season.
His departure created a roster spot that was filled by Uruguayan midfielder Alvaro Fernandez, 24, whose signing was announced Thursday. Fernandez is eligible to make his MLS debut tonight at San Jose, although the club has not confirmed that he will do so.
Seattle goes into the game in ninth place in MLS. However, a win tonight would send the Sounders sailing two points past the Quakes, and at least temporarily back into playoff position.
“It’s an important game for us, (and) it’s an important game for them,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “… I think it’s going to be a very intense game, a game where both teams are going to dig in their heels and give everything that they have. It should be an exciting game.”
If the major moves are now complete, Hanauer said he believes the Sounders’ roster includes enough talent not only to make the playoffs, but also to advance to MLS Cup, the league championship game.
“It can always be stronger, and certainly our injuries are still hurting us,” he said. “(Nate) Jaqua not quite up to fully fit and integrated, (Brad) Evans obviously out for a long time, (Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Michael Fucito also out). Those guys are on our roster, they’re on our cap; there’s nothing we can do about that.”
Read our full interview with general manager Adrian Hanauer at blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer
Seattle at San Jose, 7 p.m., Ch. 6/16, 97.3-FM, 1210-AM
SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (6-8-4; 22 POINTS) AT SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (6-4-5; 23 POINTS)
KICKOFF: 7 p.m., Buck Shaw Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.
TV: Channel 5.
RADIO: 97.3-FM (1210-AM in Spanish).
HEAD TO HEAD: The series is even, 2-2. However, the Earthquakes have won the past two by a combined 5-0. They took the only previous meeting on their home pitch, 4-0, last season; and won this season’s May 22 meeting at Qwest Field, 1-0, on a Chris Wondolowski goal.
STAT LEADERS: For Seattle – goals 7, Steve Zakuani; assists 8, Fredy Montero; shots 53, Montero; shots on goal 19, Montero; goals-against average 1.37, Keller. For San Jose: G 6, Wondolowski; A 8, Bobby Convey; S 27, Wondolowski; SOG 15, Ryan Johnson; GAA , Jon Busch, 1.
SIGI SCHMID’S SCOUTING REPORT: “I thought we were a little unlucky when we played them at home. I thought we created a lot of chances and didn’t score in that particular game. We have got to make sure we finish our chances – that’s obviously important. They are a team right now that has a good belief in themselves. They have found a unit that is working – a little bit like we have found, as well.”
NEXT: Settle will fly directly from California to El Salvador, where they will conclude their CONCACAF Champions League preliminary series Tuesday vs. Metapn. The Sounders return to MLS play Aug. 8 vs. Houston at Qwest Field.
Don Ruiz, staff writer