You’ll have to forgive Freddie Ljungberg if he seems a bit anxious. He hasn’t played a game since June and is a mere 48 hours from likely taking the field for the Sounders FC for the first time.
“ I’m just looking forward to playing football,” Ljungberg said after training on Thursday. “I feel like, as we say in Europe, I’ve been a cow that goes out to green grass after being in the barn for a while. I just want to get out.”
Ljungberg, Seattle’s bally-hooed designated player, played nine years with Arsenal and another with West Ham United before coming stateside to join the Sounders FC in the MLS. He spent much of the preseason rehabbing after off-season hip surgery. Though well ahead of schedule for his return, he still has been restless to make his Seattle debut. His last game, after all, came in a June 18 loss to Russia while playing for Sweden in Euro Cup 2008.
He’ll be joining a squad that topped the New York Red Bulls 3-0 in their inaugural game last week, so head coach Sigi Schmid has the task of finding playing time for the star midfielder.
“The team played well last week and gained confidence, but having options is good. The deeper you become the better team you become,” Schmid said.
Both Schmid and Ljungberg anticipate that he will play about 30 minutes off the bench against Real Salt Lake on Saturday, then decide how to progress from there.
“He’ll definitely be in our 18 and we’ll see how the game goes and that will dictate how many minutes he plays, but I think we can expect to see him on the field,” Schmid said.
“I would say like around a third, the 30 mark or something,” added Ljungberg. “If it feels great after this 30, then maybe we’ll start to play from the beginning and then we’ll see when the tank is empty and I maybe have to go off, but that’s how we’re going to start with it.”
Even in a short time he’s had no trouble adapting to his new teammates. He only just joined the team within the last two weeks and is already fitting in amongst the starters in some drills.
“We’re definitely getting more comfortable. He’s a good, good player, but it’s only been a week so we’re still trying to figure things out,” forward Nate Jaqua said. “But it looked good today. He’s a great player and it’ll be great to have him.”
Kickoff is set for 7:30 at Qwest Field between the two Western Conference squads.
Nate Jaqua has had so much success against Real Salt Lake that he may as well be listed among the ownership group in their media guide. Five goals in his last five games, including a hat trick in a 4-3 Houston win late in the 2007 season.
“Some of it may be circumstance or a random coincidence,” Jaqua said. “I enjoy playing against them. They’re a good team and an honest team. We have to come out with a lot of energy against them and I feel like if we do that, things will open up.”
Schmid said not too much can be gleaned from Jaqua’s prior success against RSL, though.
“It’s not quite like baseball where you can say this guy’s batting average is .358 against left-handed pitchers on a day game on Astroturf. It’s a little bit different in soccer,” Schmid said. “Certain teams can become boogie teams, certain players seem to get goals against teams. Nate’s had a history against Salt Lake and we hope that continues.”
Midfielder Brad Evans also has a goal in two games against RSL.