Freddie Ljungberg returned to Sounders FC on Monday, exactly one week after the rest of the club began training.
Ljungberg’s absence had drawn some public criticism from goalkeeper and captain Kasey Keller, and before taking the pitch for practice, those two high-profile players met to hash out any differences.
“I heard someone talk about it,” Ljungberg said. “For me personally that’s to be taken internally, and that’s disappointing someone talking like that. But I solved it this morning as well, so we’re all on the same page.”
Keller called the conversation private. And coach Sigi Schmid seemed happy to leave it that way.
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“I heard (Keller) and Freddie talked about it,” Schmid said. “It’s a private thing between them. I didn’t notice anything (on the pitch), and if we do, we’ll address it.”
The Swedish Ljungberg said the primary reason for his late arrival from Europe was concern that Major League Soccer might have locked out its players when the collective bargaining agreement was scheduled to expire Sunday. However, he decided to report after hearing optimism that a work-stoppage could be avoided. And that seemed confirmed last week when the league and players’ union agreed to extend the deadline until Feb. 12.
“To me that was the big thing,” Ljungberg said. “I’m 32 years old and I wanted to get a good (bargaining agreement), of course, and for the players to get the FIFA rights I think they deserve. At the same time, me personally, if there’s a lockout then I need to play somewhere. That was the main issue.”
Ljungberg said several Champions League clubs in Europe expressed interest in him. However, he said his first choice always was to return to Seattle to complete his two-year contract. He also said he would be interested in extending that contract beyond this season.
“I hope so,” he said. “I really, really like it in Seattle: I’ve said that from Day One. The fans have been amazing. The support I got in letters and the Internet has been amazing. I have nothing to complain about. But at the end of the day it’s about what the club wants as well, and we’ll see what happens.”
Ljungberg said he kept in shape in Europe with morning workouts in a gym and afternoon snowboarding.
Once back at Starfire Sports Complex, he jumped right into training with his teammates, including one half-field, seven-on-seven game.
On at least two occasions Ljungberg broke past the defense, but was stopped each time – once kicking the goalpost in frustration.
“We wanted to see how he felt; have him go through the warm-up together with the team,” Schmid said. “We pulled him out with (Steve) Zakuani to work extra. He wanted to play one of the games, so we let him jump into one of the games instead of playing two. He just had a flight (Sunday), so just the reasonable things to do. He’s worked out very hard in the gym. He hasn’t played soccer. But from the standpoint of dynamic strength and fitness and movement, he’s done the similar type of workouts.”
Ljungberg said European clubs train only about four weeks before starting a season, so he expects no problem being ready for the Sounders’ opener on March 25 against Philadelphia at Qwest Field.
Schmid said he expects to use Ljungberg in much the way he did last season: sometimes as a forward and sometimes as an attacking midfielder. However, Schmid said he hopes Ljungberg, the club’s highest-paid player, improves on the two goals and nine assists he provided in 2009.
“(His role) is always a moving target, not just because of Freddie but because of the other people that are out there on the field,” Schmid said. “You’ve got to fit him in the best way possible. But we definitely want him to get more goals this year than the two he had last year. We want him to maintain the assists that he got, and maybe get a little bit more. But overall we want all our players to be more aggressive in the box.”
Forward Nate Jaqua took part in the scrimmage Monday after taking things easier last week with ligament inflammation in the pelvis. … The Sounders conclude their first phase of training today. They leave tomorrow for Arizona where they will concentrate on fitness and play their first preseason game.