The best in the MLS will take the field July 29 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, against Everton in the MLS All-Star Game. On Monday, two Sounders were named to the squad when the league announced the First XI. That group included goalkeeper Kasey Keller and midfielder Freddie Ljungberg.
“We don’t have all-star games back in Europe, but it’s an honor,” Ljungberg said. “It’ll be fun.”
Keller and Ljungberg join defenders Wilman Conde (Chicago Fire), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew) and Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), midfielders Shalrie Joseph (New England Revolution), Dwayne DeRosario (Toronto FC), Stuart Holden (Houston) and Guillermo Barros Schelotto (Columbus) and forwards Conor Casey (Colorado Rapids) and Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy).
“Kasey was almost a shoe-in. I know Zach Thornton (Chivas USA) has had a tremendous year and you can’t take anything away from that. (Houston’s Pat) Onstad made a couple of good saves on Saturday. But Kasey has been such a tremendous influence on an expansion team and helping this team get to where we’re at … that’s a no-brainer for me,” said Sounders FC assistant coach Brian Schmetzer, who has been running practice while head coach Sigi Schmid was away at his son (and Sounders FC assistant coach) Kurt Schmid got married on Saturday and the elder Schmid’s former team, the Columbus Crew was honored at the White House today.
“Ljungberg, anybody that knows anything about soccer understands what a dynamic player he can be,” Schmetzer said. “We’re just hoping he gets acclimated to being kicked all the time and can stay healthy and he’ll have a good second half to the season as well.”
Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Osvaldo Alonso and Fredy Montero were also among the top vote-getters and could be among those considered for the reserves in the game, which will be selected by Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear, who earned head coaching honors by having the best points per game average through games played on June 28.
Keller is third in the league with a 0.85 GAA and has a 7-1-7 record. He has 44 saves and five shutouts.
Ljungberg is third on the team with two goals and five assists and has been a vital component in Seattle’s second-place 7-3-7 record.
The All-Star game and Sounders FC friendlies against Chelsea on Saturday and FC Barcelona August 5 not only provide the fans opportunities to see some of the best teams in the world, but also provide chances to showcase the MLS to European talent that may be seeking playing opportunities in the US.
“I think a lot of players in England are discussing the MLS. They’re interested and they want to make the league here better because we see that there is potential in America. The population is so big and there’s still a lot of young players that play soccer. We just want them to continue playing soccer instead of choosing another sport,” Ljungberg said. “For the Europeans, it’s more about the (salary structure). You can’t get a lot of European players over here because of that. But I know they are talking about it.”
For the Sounders, the friendlies will give players an opportunity to measure themselves against those top caliber players.
“When we play Chelsea, it’s great for the young players to see what will work and what won’t work. That’s a big difference and they can take that with them and learn a lot from that. So it’s a great experience, I think, for the young players,” Ljungberg said. “For me to talk, they listen and it’s great, but when they get into and see, ‘That didn’t work.’ That’s a great wakeup call and they will see that they need to change that. For the experience, that’s the best learning in the world.”
The players may not admit the extent of their excitement when FA Cup champion and Champions League semifinalist Chelsea comes to town this week, but Schmetzer said it should be easy to read on their faces.
“You can ask every single guy and they’ll probably give you some politically correct answer, but deep down inside every single one of them is going to be like ten-year-old kids,” Schmetzer said. “Playing against a team of that caliber with those players, they are going to be excited and they’re going to want to prove to themselves and to everybody else that’s watching that they can give them a good game. If they tell you anything different, they’re lying.”
Limited tickets are still available for the noon kickoff against Chelsea on Saturday. Check the Matchday page for more ticket information.