Seattle Sounders FC has given designated player Freddie Ljungberg permission to negotiate a deal with another soccer club.
“He can look at his options overseas, options within the league,” Sounders technical director Chris Henderson said Tuesday. “Potentially, the club could get a DP spot open, get salary relief. It opens a lot of doors for us.”
Ljungberg is by far the highest-paid Sounder at $1.3 million, and he probably is the club’s best-known player outside the United States.
He was signed amid much fanfare Oct. 28, 2008, after 10 seasons in the English Premier League. His résumé included two EPL championships and three FA Cups. He appeared in 328 matches for Arsenal, and he was rated among the top 11 players in club history. He also was honored as Sweden’s player of the year in 2002 and 2006.
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His first season in Major League Soccer last year lived up to expectations. He was the only Sounder selected to the league’s postseason Best XI, made the All-Star team and was a finalist for MLS newcomer of the year.
About this time last year, Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer expressed interest in extending Ljungberg’s original two-season contract. Ljungberg – who regularly has expressed his love for Seattle – said the interest was mutual.
However, that contract extension was never completed, and now no one with the organization seems confident that he will ever again wear the rave green.
“That’s something I really couldn’t say,” coach Sigi Schmid said Tuesday, after his club trained without Ljungberg. “It’s something that’s basically been agreed upon: Let’s go ahead and explore these options and see what comes out of it.”
What went wrong?
Neither Ljungberg nor his representatives were available for comment Tuesday. And no one with the Sounders cited any clear moment when the relationship soured.
“Soccer can change like that one way or another,” Henderson said. “If we would have won those early games instead of ties, maybe that changes things. It’s kind of just where we are at this point. Freddie gets along with everyone. I think it’s just the group chemistry and where we’re at right now, and trying to get the team right and the chemistry right now to get wins. And it’s hard to say or put your finger on exactly what it is.”
Ljungberg’s second season got off to a rocky start before he even arrived. He was late for preseason training, citing reluctance to leave Europe until the resolution of an MLS labor dispute that threatened the season.
However, other Sounders trained through the uncertainty, and goalkeeper Kasey Keller seemed to call out Ljungberg, saying, “when you’re under contract, you’re supposed to be where you’re supposed to be for the team that holds your contract.”
On Tuesday, Keller disputed the notion of any “public bump” between the club’s two biggest stars.
“All I said was that players, regardless of whatever, we’re supposed to be at a certain place at a certain time,” he said. “… Never mentioned Freddie, never mentioned anybody. It wouldn’t have mattered if it was me, Freddie or (Fredy) Montero, (Nate) Jaqua or whoever. If you’re supposed to be somewhere, you’re supposed to be somewhere.”
Eventually, general manager Adrian Hanauer attributed Ljungberg’s late arrival to a misunderstanding.
However, the rockiness continued into the season.
In 15 games played this year, the 33-year-old midfielder has produced no goals and three assists. He also has picked up three yellow cards, and his complaining to referees brought criticism from Philadelphia coach Peter Nowak after the season opener and finally from Schmid.
On Tuesday, Schmid also cited no single area where the relationship went wrong.
“Whether he was going to continue here next year was up in the air a little bit, because the ownership put everybody on notice because we weren’t doing well,” Schmid said. “This is a club that has a lot of pride, and it wants to have success; and so everybody is dispensable, I guess, and that includes me. … They weren’t really willing to make commitments going into the following season at this point, and I think that was probably a primary reason for a player like him – with his pedigree and at his age – to say, ‘I’ve got to start looking at some options.’ ”
After a 12-7-11 MLS record last season that left Seattle just two points from the Supporters Shield (most regular season points), the Sounders now stand at 5-8-4 and currently out of playoff position.
Ljungberg missed the past two league games, which the club attributed to an ankle injury. Yet, the Sounders got a win and a draw out of those games, and they seemed invigorated by a younger lineup.
Neither Schmid nor Henderson directly attributed the new energy to Ljungberg’s absence. However, each seemed eager to see what else the new lineup can accomplish.
“Lately, with our results, we feel things have changed,” Henderson said. “Just the team playing well – and it could have been with anybody on the field – but with the group that we’re going with now, it’s working.”