Sigi Schmid

Long term patience pays off as Sounders FC lands Ivanschitz

Ivanschitz - update 150804

Sounders FC played the long game with Andreas Ivanschitz.

The club first opened talks with the talented Austrian attacking midfielder at the tail end of his stint with Mainz, around 2013, but the deal was never hammered down. International signings tend to work on their own timetables, and Ivanschitz was soon off to Spain. Sounders FC never broke contact, but the deal was moved to the backburner

The hook baited, Seattle simply kept tugging until it pulled up an experienced international midfielder.

The conditions were finally ripe this summer. Ivanschitz spent two largely successful seasons with Levante in Spain’s La Liga before his contract concluded, making him free to pull off the transfer market. Bolstered by the good word put in by former Sounder and Austrian countryman Michael Gspurning, Ivanschitz couldn’t resist the Puget Sound’s siren song.

READ: Sounders FC signs midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz

The club announced Ivanschitz’s signing this week, bringing a formal conclusion to a courtship that lasted on and off for the better part of two years.

“We’ve been following him for a long time,” Sounders FC Sporting Director Chris Henderson said.

Ivanschitz is arriving at a critical time for the club. Sounders FC is mired in a stretch of seven losses in its last eight matches, and the team has just two goals over that time. While the defense has largely continued its tidy work as one of the league’s most consistently effective units, the attack is still searching for answers as its key pieces trickle back to the starting 11 from injury and national team absence.

Ivanschitz should act as a soothing balm to some of the team’s more prominent aches. Sounders FC has long relied on Clint Dempsey to drop into the midfield to interact with its holding midfielders to prod the attack, but that’s become more problematic with Obafemi Martins on the shelf for most of the summer with injury. In a 3-0 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps over the weekend, Dempsey’s first game back from 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup duty was a case study in his preferred method of business. The problem was support both behind and in front. He was too often alone.

Ivanschitz can help in that regard. He’s played a number of positions in the attacking third with Mainz and Levante, including the technician’s No. 10 role tucked underneath the strikers. He thrives in support roles in the midfield, and he was routinely the sinew between the deeper parts of the midfield and the player who’d relay the final pass. The on-field relationship between Ivanschitz and Dempsey, whenever the two can get on the field together, immediately becomes of interest.

Sounders FC General Manager & President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey has never been shy about his skepticism regarding mid-season international transfers. The adjustment process for new players in the heat of the MLS season can be intense. Whether that’s learning the language, integrating into a uniquely athletic league or simply learning his way around town, international signings at this time of year don’t often lend themselves to a harmonious and seamless transition.

Ivanschitz, though, was a different story.

“Andreas’s English is perfect,” Lagerwey said. “He’s lived in a number of countries; played in Greece, played in Spain, where he’s outside his comfort zone, outside his home country. And he’s a guy who we think is going to adapt very, very well. And coming from the level he was playing at, we have no doubt about his footballing ability. We’re really excited.”

READ: Fast Facts: The low-down on Andreas Ivanschitz

Exactly where Ivanschitz slots into the lineup when he enters the squad is unclear. He hasn’t played a competitive match since his Levante contract ran its course more than six weeks ago, and both Lagerwey and Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid said this week he could work well in a wider creative position on the left. Whatever that looks like, Seattle will be happy to welcome another creative face to the milieu. The fact that he’s a left-footed player who can naturally slot into that spot while Marco Pappa is absent from the team only enhanced his profile.

One bonus is Sounders FC’s cohesive, veteran locker room. Seattle boasts decades of collective experience, and the team knows the time is now to bring together its collective fingers into a single, balled fist.

“It’s just about getting him into the locker room, welcoming him and making him feel at home,” veteran central defender Chad Marshall said. “Hopefully he can adapt. It’s been tough historically with people coming in adjusting to the league quickly. But you do get some guys that pick it up right away. Hopefully he’s one of those and he can help us going forward, because it’s all about the playoffs and making a good run.”

Gspurning wasn’t Seattle’s only connection to Ivanschitz. Current U.S. U-23 Head Coach Andi Herzog played for Sigi Schmid when he coached the LA Galaxy in 2004, and the Austrian knows Ivanschitz. Herzog spoke with Schmid and mentioned Ivanschitz was interested, which reignited a transfer flame that had been dormant for a few years. Now, the team is hoping to add another vital piece to a puzzle that’s continuing to come together.

“I do think he’s a guy who can be with us for a couple years, so I don’t think it’s just a ‘Win now’ or just for this summer,” Lagerwey said. “But are we trying to win? You better believe we’re trying to win.”



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