That's the question that Steve Davis asks in his latest post at Daily Soccer Fix.
It really comes down to a few main topics where Freddie has been struggling
1- Adjusting to MLS Referees
2- Injury History
3- Statistical performance
4- His nature as a "tweener" compared to the Sounders roster
Adjusting to MLS Referees
I absolutely agree with Davis on Freddie's failure to adjust to MLS referees. Ljungberg is holding them to the same standard as he holds himself. He expects perfection. We all know that MLS referees are terribly inconsistent, but Freddie turns himself red, looking like a cartoon character about to have a head explode from the stress.
His issues with this have basically forced him to miss 2 matches for discipline, as well missing minutes in a vital match due to his Red (Draw against the Fire). For a player that gets fouled 3.3 times per 90 minutes played he has a ridiculous amount of Yellows/Reds. He retaliates either at the referees or by getting in the face of the opposition (recall the scrum with DeRo?). It may be odd to say, but Ljungberg has a bit of a discipline problem.
Yes, Freddie hasn't been around for enough of the season. But the reason breaks down into thirds. 1/3 of his missed minutes are due to his discipline issues. The other third both relate to "injuries."
Ljungberg has had two classic injury issues, one was addressed surgically in the offseason - his hip/knee issues that destroyed his West Ham contract/year. He missed 197 minutes at the beginning of the season due to that issue. The team was playing well so we all overlooked it. But how would the team be playing now if he had been here for the pre-season? How would it be playing now if the Ljungberg as CAM experiment had been abandoned sooner?
The other issue though also has a long history, and has cause him to miss more matches than either of the other two. That of the migraine/blood sugar levels, it hurt the MLS in the All-Star game. It hurt Sounders FC in five matches. It was an issue at Arsenal and at West Ham. Supposedly Sounders and Ljungberg know the problems now, but those minutes unplayed both in practice and at matches have likely hurt the chemistry of the Rave Green.
Two of these three issues were known quantities when he was signed. They were part of the risk/reward that Adrian and Co. took when they brought the aging star here.
Due to Ljungberg's missed matches there is a lot of massaging in stats that could be done. The raw data certainly isn't in his favor. He's tied for fourth in goals scored, he is third in assists, and 9th in minutes played. When an offensive player is signed to a DP/Max contract the expectation is rather high.
Is it fair to hold him to that expectation? Maybe not, but the pressure was earned by his history and the league's decision to make him one of the highest paid players in the league.
Again though, his numbers are skewed by his lack of minutes. When he does play he is 4th in Points Per 90 (2*Goals+Assists per 90 Minutes). Honestly, that isn't great either. What about by Plus/Minus? Since this measures the team with/without Ljungberg on the pitch what do we discover?
By +/- Ljungberg has a Seven. The team has a goal differential of get this SEVEN. This basically means that Sounders FC is a league average/neutral team when Ljungberg is not on the field. With the Swede the team wins 49% of points available, without him they win only 44% of points available. In the current structure of MLS that's the difference between being a 40 point team that misses the playoffs and a 44 point team that barely makes it.
Even the defense is better when Ljungberg plays as 7 of the 11 Clean Sheets for the team have occurred when he plays. So while his standard soccer statistics make him look neutral or ineffective, the fact is that the team is better when he plays, enough so that he is the difference between having at least one more game at Qwest and Not.
Added: Link to Stats page
His nature as a "tweener" compared to the Sounders roster
This is an issue which my readers are quite familiar. I hated having the Freddyain (Fredy and Freddie) both centrally located. They struggled mightily too often occupying the exact same space with moments in the early season seeing Montero or Ljungberg steal the ball from their own teammate.
Ljungberg was shifted to the right wing opposite Zakuani. The Interchange was attempted so that he could be central for stretches. Lately we have seen Brad Evans dropped to the bench so that Alonso can come forward as a box-to-box central midfielder and Vagenas drop to a more defensive role. All of these attempts have been Sigi trying to discover how best to utilize the depth of offensive talent the Sounders have, yet without a traditional #10/CAM.
Last night we saw an experiment with Le Toux and Zakuani on the wings with the Freddyain both up top. Oddly, I found that tactic to be less satisfying for Ljungberg, because he didn't have possession enough. A ball at feet man has to have the ball at his feet. He didn't get hit on his solid central runs; both Zakuani and Marshall ignored him in clear goal scoring opportunities.
More and more I see the lack of a #10 as the biggest issue facing Sounders FC. A creative force that can pick and choose which of the running wings or central forwards would make this team a true Cup threat. This isn't Ljungberg's fault though. He is just a great winger in this league. He needs help so he can dart diagonally from the elbow with a great leading pass so he can score. The CAM has to be the goal in the off-season, sure it might force a shift to a 4-2-3-1, but if it is Evans and Alonso as the DMs the offense would be supplemented by the wingbacks and "defensive" midfielders.
I went into this thinking that I would sharply disagree with Davis, but honestly it really comes down to one thing and one thing only - How much is a home playoff game worth?
Not just the chance at a title, but home many tickets does a Qwest Field would be sold for that one game? How many tickets would be renewed with a Playoff run? The answer for one game is about 2M$. If the playoffs bump renewals up from league average by 10% that means an extra 2600 renewals, or about another 2M$ for next season.
For that reason, and that alone Ljungberg is worth the money. There's a reason why Sounders FC has been the best expansion team since contraction and Freddie Ljungberg is one of the primary reasons (Keller and the USL guys are the other differences). Without Ljungberg they would still be the best, and might still have that US Open Cup trophy, but they certainly wouldn't be a playoff team if they did not have him. The team is spending less than 1 Million dollars on the Arsenal product, they are probably going to return nearly four times that due to his presence.
Lastly, Qwest was built with soccer in mind. If we had an MLS team from the moment it opened it would not be called an NFL stadium. In fact there are no indicators that it isn't fully shared when watching the game, unless you aren't watching the game. Sure some object to any artificial turf, but I would rather the Field Turf in Qwest than a place like Pizza Hut Park where the grass shows faint high school football lines. Also, without the extra capacity at Qwest you won't be able to fit the 40,000 fans for 2010. I don't know of many leagues that get better by having fans stay at home.