Less than two weeks from the opening game, the Sounders FC are getting closer and closer to the team that will kick off the season at Xbox Pitch at Qwest Field March 19 against the New York Red Bulls.
The team returned from Argentina after going 2-1-1 in the Buenos Aires leg of training camp and just a few hours later designated player Freddie Ljungberg landed in Seattle. The Swedish midfielder made his long-awaited arrival after spending the last two months rehabbing from hip surgery in his native Sweden.
“We’ve been looking forward to getting Freddie into town,” owner/GM Adrian Hanauer said. “First and foremost we want him to get acclimated to the city, get to know his teammates and get assimilated into the team and over time as he starts training he can be a big contributor to the team.”
The former Arsenal and West Ham United midfielder has split time between London, England and his native Sweden while rehabbing from his December 19 hip surgery at the Steadman Hawkins Clinic in Vail, Colorado.
“The hip is doing great,” Ljungberg said while sleepily waiting for his baggage at Sea-Tac Airport. “I’m already running and I’ve played a bit of football. So it’s all happy days.”
Ljungberg has had trouble with his hamstring over the last two years, but it wasn’t until he came to the Sounders FC and learned that his hip was broken that surgery was explored as an option.
“I wish someone would have told me earlier and we could have done it,” Ljungberg said. “At the end of the day when we found out what it was and that I wouldn’t have any problems during the season, Adrian thought it was a no-brainer to do the surgery and get back.”
Almost immediately after the surgery, he started his rehab, training 5-6 hours a day and slowly building up his workload. Within the last three weeks he started running and has even recently played some soccer.
While he’s been making considerable progress, his doctors are taking a more conservative approach to his rehab, especially as he grows closer and closer to playing shape.
“It’s a bit touch-and-go. I feel great, but the physio is a bit concerned and is holding me back a little bit to keep me from having a setback later on,” Ljungberg said.
Although an exact date for his Sounders FC debut has not yet been determined, the team is not rushing to get Ljungberg on the field.
“We’ll let the doctors decide. We’re definitely not pressed. It’ll be when the doctors are comfortable with it and when Freddie’s ready,” Ljungberg said. “We’ve got a good team, so we’re not desperate, but we’re anxious.”
Along with the action on the field, Ljungberg looks forward to meeting his teammates. He had only met goalkeeper Kasey Keller and midfielders Sebastien Le Toux and Sanna Nyassi before his surgery.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Ljungberg said. “It’s a team sport and when you do the rehab on your own, it’s very boring. You miss the banter in the dressing room. It’s going to be great to meet them.”
He will meet up with a team that spent the last ten days bonding amidst the torrential downpour – it rained as much as eight inches in one night – in their second training trip of the preseason.
“The trip was good. From a bonding standpoint it was fantastic. You saw the guys really coming together, fighting for each other, getting to know each other, practical jokes,” Hanauer said. “From a soccer standpoint there were some good things and not-so-good things. The fact that the weather was a little dicey, we didn’t get as many games as we wanted, didn’t get to be on grass vs. River Plate, which was a little disappointing. A little adversity is never such a bad thing, it helps things come together.”
The trip concluded Thursday with a 1-0 loss to Argentine club River Plate. The team returns to training on Monday at Qwest Field and will play a closed-door training game against the Colorado Rapids Thursday at Qwest Field.