Soccer is only the beautiful game when its most skilled players remain upright.
But while fans enjoy seeing talented players running through space, that is the last thing that defenses want. And that helps explain why Seattle Sounders FC’s two leaders in fouls suffered also are two of the team’s most skilled players: forward Fredy Montero and attacking midfielder Freddie Ljungberg.
Each has suffered 17 fouls this season. That ties them for fifth in Major League Soccer, even though Montero has played in only six of Seattle’s eight games and Ljungberg has played in about six and a half games. One spot ahead of them, with 18 fouls suffered, is forward/midfielder David Ferreira of FC Dallas, a team the Sounders will visit at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s definitely a very physical league in that there’s a lot less time on the ball and you have less time to make decisions,” Montero said Thursday, in Spanish with Seattle defender Taylor Graham translating. “It’s something that (I’ve) been dealing with, and it’s something (I’m) going to continue to try to improve on.”
Talented offensive players draw a disproportionate number of fouls, much as they do in basketball and for similar reasons: Sometimes the defender sees a tactical advantage in fouling rather than risking a goal. Other times the defender fouls unintentionally because he can’t match the quickness of the more gifted player he is trying to guard.
“I’m a technically quick player,” Ljungberg said Thursday. “I’ve been kicked wherever I’ve been, whether it’s England or it’s here. And it’s up to the referees to do their job. … I can’t ask any more than that. Yes, there have been some bad tackles. I’ve had bad tackles in Europe, as well.”
Ljungberg declined to compare the quality of MLS referees to those in the English Premier League, where he spent most of his career. However, the reason he cited was a kind of answer in itself: He said he feared being disciplined by the league.
Meanwhile, Montero was willing to note a difference in style between MLS referees and those in his homeland.
“In Colombia, the refs stop the game much more frequently because they’re calling much more fouls,” he said. “Here, the game is much more continuous.”
That balance of allowing a free-flowing game without allowing defenses to maul offensive stars is one of the traits that separates the best referees from the others.
“Just because you have your medical degree doesn’t mean that you’re a particularly gifted surgeon,” said Sounders coach Sigi Schmid, whose father was a referee for more than 25 years. “It’s like with everything, and the same thing with referees. Just because you have a badge and you’re a referee, there are some that just innately have a better feel for it than others.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808
MLS LEADERS in fouls suffered