Whereas some sports teams acquire big names to help sell tickets, Joe Roth and Adrian Hanauer believe that Keller and Ljungberg, as stylish as they may be, offer even more in substance.
“You want someone who is not a gimmick,” said Roth, while introducing the Swede playmaker to Seattle. “You want someone who is still playing at the top of his career. You don’t need anyone here to come sell tickets, because the people of Seattle have embraced the team.”
It was Roth who first contacted Ljungberg. When Hanauer first made his acquaintance, it was plain to him that Freddie came to play, and play hard. Where others may see sparkle, the Seattle GM sees a pair of no-nonsense guys who want to win.
“Kasey and Freddie have great character, competitiveness and intelligence on the field, pride for their jersey that they worn over the years, bravery, passion,” says Hanauer. “All of those are things that–given good leadership, good goals–we think will lead to the cohesive team.”
In terms of putting the team together, Sounders FC is a long way from being finished. The arrival of 10 players following the Nov. 26 MLS expansion draft will only populate the roster halfway.
Not since Chicago in 1998 has an expansion team qualified for the playoffs in its first season. If Seattle is to do it, the moves in the next few weeks will matter just as much as those to date.
“It comes down to the rest of the team forming,” says Keller. “We have four guys right now, and for us to talk about Freddie’s impact, mine, or ours together, it’s premature. But the club is trying to do get the best players possible in a squad, and then it’s going up to us, how we can best win ball games.”
Those words were just what Hanauer wanted to hear. Seattle has two spectacular talents. Moreover, Keller and Ljungberg are leaders. As the club gets closer and closer to identifying its head coach and choosing players in the expansion draft, character drives the discussion.
“It’s not just good enough to bring in a bunch of guys with good character and hope they figure it out themselves,” adds Hanauer. “You still need the leadership to nurture that cohesion, and so in our coaching search and vetting of the process, that’s enormously important to us.”
The Simple Life
Sure, there were some paparazzi awaiting when he landed, but once Freddie Ljungberg settles into Seattle he’s probably going to enjoy the kind of personal freedom he hasn’t known since before he sported a red-streaked melon at Highbury.
Ljungberg likes London, but he prizes privacy more so. When he toured the Seattle area initially back in September, it reminded him of those innocent days of youth.
“As a boy I was brought up on the sea front, so when I went here, it’s quite similar to what Sweden’s like, but a bit warmer,” remembers Freddie. “I talked to a lot of people and they seemed very friendly. I think that’s what really sold me.”
During a chance encounter with Ljungberg at a restaurant, one man seemed almost struck by apoplexy. Upon seeing recognizing him, the fan first did a double-take, then was practically rendered speechless, says Hanauer. Otherwise his movements were uneventful, and that’s fine.
In many ways, this next stop is about getting back to basics, playing football and simplifying life.
“It’s going to be different thing and a totally different experience but that’s why I came here as well,” says Freddie. “I wanted something that different. I’ve played as a professional since I was 16 in Europe. It’s the biggest sport there is and you get recognized.
“I felt it would be a totally different thing (here) and I want to make this league really good and try to help build it,” he says. “If people don’t always recognize me, I’d be the first person happy about it.”
It Ain’t Easy Being DP
Once he pulls on the rave green, he’ll be just another one of the guys, right? Not quite.
With the Designated Player tag will come expectations, both of the individual and the team. Keller saw lots of Ljungberg in England, and thinks his new teammate has what it takes to show everyone what the fuss is all about.
“The key really is to break that mold the DP has had in MLS,” says Keller, alluding to the fact that spending has not necessarily translated to success. “(But) there’s no reason why he can’t come in here and be one of the biggest impact players in MLS.”
Turn On, Tune In
NOTE: Make a date to join the Emerald City Supporters, both literally and figuratively, for an MLS Cup viewing party on Sunday, Nov. 23, at the George & Dragon. Kickoff is 12:30 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 15
7 a.m. (PT), Fox Soccer Channel, Arsenal v Aston Villa
Why Watch: 3 v 5, Gunners back on track while Villa in danger of slipping out of top five
8:30 a.m., GolTv, Borussia Monchengladbach v Bayern Munich
Why Watch: Klinnsmann got Bayern on a roll. Will Landon be the mustard?
11:30 a.m. (PT), FSC, Palermo v Inter Milan
Why Watch: Palermo sits mid-table but is 4-1 at home; leaders Inter so-so away
6:30 p.m. (PT), FSC, Real Salt Lake v New York
Why Watch: In this MLS Cup semifinal, which of these Cinderellas proceeds to the ball?
Sunday, Nov. 16
8 a.m. (PT), FSC, Hull City v Manchester City
Why Watch: Tigers have a habit of giving up goals in bunches & City is capable of doing just that
11:30 a.m. (PT), FSC, Roma v Lazio
Why Watch: The most spirited of all derbies in Serie A originates in the capital
11:55 a.m. (PT), Setanta, Lyon v Bordeaux
Why Watch: Unbeaten in five and at home, Lyon host 3rd-place Bordeaux
12 noon (PT), GolTV, Recreativo v Barcelona
Why Watch: Barca has scored 15 times in last three La Liga outings
Wednesday, Nov. 19
11:30 a.m. (PT), Sky, Scotland v Argentina
Why Watch: Can Diego Maradona manage to keep his job up until his debut in Glasgow?
11:30 a.m. (PT), ITV, Germany v England
Why Watch: For a friendly, with all the history and talent, this promises to be entertaining
5 p.m. (PT, ESPN Classic, Guatemala v USA
Why Watch: While the Yanks are advancing, this is a must-win for the hosts
Friday night (7 p.m.) at Starfire, members of the USL Sounders will play the Bosnia community team, winner of the 2008 All Nations Cup…On Saturday morning, the second installment of the Sounders Super Search will go from 11-2 at Starfire. At last count, over 400 prospects had registered…Much like their older sisters at the Olympics, the U.S. U-17 Women’s National Team has started slow then caught fire. Team USA plays North Korea for the inaugural FIFA World Championship in New Zealand on Sunday…The top two NCAA Division II women’s teams in the West host regional playoffs this weekend. Seattle Pacific plays UC San Diego on Saturday at 1 o’clock at Interbay. On Sunday afternoon (1 p.m.) in Bellingham, GNAC champion Western Washington plays at Orca Field on the Whatcom Community College campus…The UW women are in College Station, Texas. If the Huskies beat LSU on Friday, they play again Sunday. Meanwhile, Washington State faces Texas on Friday in Portland. If the Cougs prevail, they’ll likely face the host Pilots on Sunday…The girls quarterfinal playoffs will be held across the state in all classifications on Saturday. The stat semifinals and finals for 2A-4A will be in Lakewood on Nov. 21-22. The 1B-1A finals and boys 1B/2B finals are in Sumner.