A motivated pair of Sounders returned to the training ground at Starfire on Thursday as Adam Johansson and Mario Martinez participated in their first training sessions since being called in to Sweden and Honduras, respectively, for World Cup qualifying matches.
It was a first for the Sounders, as no player had previously been called away from the Sounders to play a match for a European national team until Johansson played for Sweden in a friendly against China on September 6 in Helsingborg, Sweden.
Johansson had previously been called in, but each of his previous call-ups came before he started training with the Sounders. Former forward Blaise Nkufo finished off a run in the World Cup with Switzerland before joining the Sounders in 2010 – a World Cup that also saw Alvaro Fernandez help Uruguay to the semifinals before joining the Sounders later that summer. Also, Erik Friberg, a mainstay in the lineup in 2011, played for Sweden after transferring back to his home country with Malmo this year.
“It’s great for Adam and it’s good in terms of the recognition within our league and our club that a player can come over here and play and still be mentioned for the national team,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “It’s good for our league that coaches see that players continue to grow and develop.”
For Johansson, it was the first time he had been called up to Sweden since two friendlies in Qatar in January, meaning he missed the European Championships over the summer. However, the World Cup qualifying just started last week and while Johansson was on the bench for Sweden’s 2-0 win over Kazakhstan on Tuesday, it was still a great sign to him that he was called in for the match.
Major League Soccer is gaining more and more respect from European players and coaches as the league grows year after year.
“It’s improving every year. I think a lot of people in Sweden may not have high thoughts of the league, but it’s much better than they think. It’s a good league – a lot of good players. I’m glad I’m here,” Johansson said. “I’m really glad I was there on the team and I hope that I will be there again.”
Martinez was in for most of training, while Johansson was limited after a full day of travel on Wednesday. The right back hopes to be able to participate in full on Friday and be available to play on Saturday against the Timbers in a match that is critical in the race for the Cascadia Cup and for the Supporters’ Shield.
Martinez, meanwhile, played in both of Honduras’ victories over Cuba. The 23-year-old midfielder had a much shorter travel day from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and is likely to be available for the Sounders as they look to avenge a loss to the Timbers back in June.
“I feel great,” Martinez said. “I hope I can have the opportunity to play on Saturday and that I can take advantage of that opportunity and do my best.”
Sweden’s next match in the World Cup qualifying round is against Faroe Islands on October 12, then Germany on October 16. Honduras will meet Panama on October 12 and Canada on October 16.