Sounders FC designated player Freddie Ljungberg remained in Europe on Monday while his teammates began preseason training at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila.
And while the club responded with the most civil of press releases, team captain Kasey Keller was more direct.
“I don’t know the full story,” he said. “I’m a player, I’m not in management. (But) I think when you’re under contract you’re supposed to be where you’re supposed to be for the team that holds your contract. And if something gets worked out, it has to be worked out with the club that holds your contract. You don’t as a player get your choice to say what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it.”
There is no question that Ljungberg’s contract with the Sounders runs through the 2010 season.
However, Keller gave only conditional support for Ljungberg playing out that contract in Seattle.
“I want the players on this team who want to be here,” he said. “If Freddie wants to be here and wants to be fully committed, then sure. If he doesn’t, it’s more of a distraction than a benefit. That’s how I am: I’d much rather have a guy with less talent that wants to be here than a guy with great talent who doesn’t.”
Sounders management was more diplomatic about the absence of its highest-paid and internationally best-known player.
General manager Adrian Hanauer admitted that Ljungberg didn’t exactly have the club’s permission to miss the start of training. But he said the club wasn’t surprised by his absence and that he expects Ljungberg to be with the Sounders this season. In any case, he said the situation should resolve soon, as the European transfer window closes Sunday.
A few minutes later, the club released a statement saying: “We have been in constant dialogue with Freddie Ljungberg’s representatives. He is in Europe but we hope to have him join our training soon. We cannot comment on speculation nor discuss any interest on the part of other clubs. Freddie remains under contract to Sounders FC.”
Caught in the middle was coach Sigi Schmid, who led his team through a 90-minute workout.
Schmid said he expects Ljungberg to turn up, although he admitted he doesn’t know when.
And he said it is “not OK” for even a player as experienced and talented a player as Ljungberg to miss the start of training camp.
“It’s something that we’ll handle internally as a club in terms of whether there are fines or anything like that,” Schmid said. “All of them would like to miss a week. We can’t all miss a week. We can’t let them all miss a week. So from that standpoint, we’ve got to hold them all to a standard.”
Ljungberg implied last week on his “Freddie Speaks Up” blog that his return to the Sounders depends on MLS and its players agreeing on a new collective bargaining agreement, to replace the one that expires Sunday.
On Monday, neither Hanauer nor Sounders player representative James Riley went into much detail on those negotiations. Both said they hope for a resolution without any interruption in training or the MLS season.
That also was Schmid’s attitude during a training session made up mostly of jogging, stretching and short-field games.
And despite any distractions from Ljungberg or the labor dispute, Schmid said the club has smoothly started building on its 12-7-11 record in its inaugural season.
“It feels like a club in the process of continuing to grow and mature,” Schmid said. “For us now the whole thing is to establish our routines, our rhythms and establish ourselves as one of the top clubs in MLS on a year-to-year basis. So that’s different. Last year we weren’t quite sure what to expect, what was going to happen. We had hoped certain things would occur. They did certainly with the support that we got and we got off to a great start.”