Sounders FC

As labor issues loom, Sounders go back to work

After his first workout of a two-month preseason that serves as a lengthy preface to a seven- or eight-month season, Seattle Sounders defender James Riley noted that it seemed like “just yesterday” that the soccer team had been eliminated from the MLS playoffs.

Ljungberg in Europe: Keller blasts absent star player

No wonder. It wasn’t yesterday, but it was well into November. And the Sounders are back at work in January, giving them what must be the briefest offseason in professional sports.

The Sounders talked about how different this camp would be, after having gone through a successful inaugural season and not having to be in such a frantic evaluation mode with every player on the roster. But that didn’t shoo away some clouds of uncertainty.

International headliner Freddie Ljungberg was a no-show. And, depending on how much work can be completed on the MLS’ collective bargaining agreement, the whole league might be shut down next week.

But Monday morning on the practice pitch at the Starfire Sports Complex, it was unseasonably warm and sunny, with steady outbreaks of fresh optimism.

Why not? The Sounders advanced to the playoffs, won the U.S. Open Cup, and established an MLS attendance record by averaging almost 31,000 fans per game at Qwest Field.

“What is so tremendous is the way the organization handled itself, the way the players did, and the great reception of the people (of the Northwest),” goalkeeper Kasey Keller of Lacey said. “We’re just looking forward to keeping that going … and it’s our responsibility to put a great product on the field to give fans something to cheer about.”

Keller said that the franchise’s first year established a solid foundation for what he expects to be continued growth.

“(GM) Adrian Hanauer would be the first to admit that his work (now) is to find little pieces that make us better, and is not the case of thinking, ‘Oh, man, we were so bad, I’ve got to find 10 to 12 new guys to try to make something happen,’ ” Keller said. “So, I think that is what’s very cool about the situation we have right now … if we find a couple new faces to freshen things up and keep that competition. We truly have a good squad.”

Keller said he wasn’t entirely up to speed on the reasons Ljungberg wasn’t at work. The Swede reportedly has been examining options for playing in Europe again. But if Ljungberg is not committed to the Sounders, it’s not worth the distraction, Keller said.

“If you’re under contract (on) the first day of preseason, this is where you’re supposed to be,” Keller said. “I don’t know how much more clear cut it can be than that.”

Ljungberg won’t be the only one on the shelf if the league and players union can’t reach terms on a labor agreement.

Both sides are working diligently, said Riley, the player representative from the Sounders, and he, too, is optimistic that both sides can find equity in a quick solution.

“Soccer in general, and especially in Seattle, is on the up and up, so obviously I think any work stoppage is detrimental to the league,” he said.

And it certainly would disrupt the plan set up by coach Sigi Schmid, who talked about the importance of establishing a rhythm to team preparations every year.

“The goal is always to win a championship,” he said. “It is always to get to the playoffs and win a championship. But the other part of the goal … is establishing a consistent approach. We want to be there every year. We don’t want to be a fly-by-night … We want to establish a good rhythm and a real good core and body of work that allows us to be among the elite teams year after year.”

Well, they did it in Year One. And since it seems like “just yesterday,” they should be able to remember how it’s done.

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440