Sounders FC is greener than usual this week.
In addition to all those players in their rave green jerseys, a growing number of the team’s international players are acquiring their green cards.
The cards serve as proof that players who are not United States citizens have been granted immigration benefits, including permission to live and work in the U.S.
Still, the card may be even more valuable for the team.
“It helps the roster – I don’t know the rules, international slots, something,” said Steve Zakuani, who was born in the Congo but holds United Kingdom citizenship. “First, it helps the team. And for me in my personal life, I’m a permanent resident: I can go and come how I want. That helps, too.”
Green cards benefit the team because Major League Soccer limits its U.S. clubs to eight international players. U.S. Open Cup competition has a limit of five.
However, players with green cards don’t count as international players.
The club announced Monday that forward Fredy Montero had become the latest Sounders player to receive his green card.
“A lot of people have a very difficult time getting their green card, but thank God I have mine now,” Montero said Tuesday through a translator. “I just want to continue doing a good job for the team that helped me get my green card and keep playing good soccer.”
Zakuani has applied for his card and expects it soon.
“Having those players get their green cards means you have more options to go to,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “This year in the Open Cup Leo (Gonzalez, a citizen of Costa Rica) couldn’t play because we had too many foreign players. So, it avoids some of those decisions. It just gives you the opportunity, whether the player is American or foreign, if he is going to be somebody who is going to help your team you can sign him. It doesn’t matter what nationality he is.”
If Zakuani gets his card, the Sounders will have six international players: Gonzalez, Alvaro Fernandez, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Miguel Montaño, Sanna Nyassi and Blaise Nkufo.
“Fredy has worked extremely hard on learning English and becoming part of our community,” general manager Adrian Hanauer said in a press release. “He is very deserving. This also helps the club, providing us greater flexibility as we build our roster for 2011 and beyond.”
The card also opens the possibility for duty with the U.S. national team, for instance in World Cup and its qualifiers.
Zakuani – who could have eligibility for the Congo, England and U.S. national teams – has made his decision, but doesn’t plan to reveal it until after the Sounders’ MLS playoff run is over.
“Potentially, I can play for three,” he said.
“But I already know: so, one.”
Montero has played in FIFA competition with the Colombian national team and therefore cannot switch.
He also has spoken about wanting to eventually play in Europe. However, getting his card so close to the end of the season raises speculation that he might be planning to stick around – especially after he recently purchased a house in the area.
Montero, who shared the team goal-scoring lead with Zakuani and was the outright leader in assists, didn’t directly respond Tuesday to the issue about staying in the United States.
“(The green card) opens a lot of doors in the United States, not only for the team, but in my personal life and what I think about doing in my future,” he said.
“The team benefits, but I also benefit.”
Starting defender Jeff Parke sat out practice Tuesday after suffering an ankle sprain in Seattle’s 1-0 playoff-opening loss to Los Angeles on Sunday. “We have got to see how he responds over the next couple of days,” Schmid said. “The earliest that we would think about having him train is probably Friday.” The Sounders’ conclude their first-round playoff series against the Galaxy at 6 p.m. Sunday at Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.