UPDATE: Due to some technical issues, we only now just added a couple more responses.
With Freddie Ljungberg's trade to the Chicago Fire last week a captivating saga finally closed. The last time he appeared in front of Sounders fans was during the U.S. Open Cup match against the Los Angeles Galaxy on July 7.
In that match, it is worth noting, Ljungberg showed up late and took his seat on the bench sometime during the first half. He spent most of the game signing autographs and, in hindsight, appeared to be saying goodbye to his fans.
Although he practiced the first day after the Galaxy match, it was revealed the next day that Ljungberg would not be available for FC Dallas match. An injured ankle was the reason given, but it quickly became apparent that something else was going on. Within a week, it was common knowledge that Ljungberg was looking for a way out of town.
Ljungberg and his people spent the next few weeks looking for somewhere willing to take on his salary and offer him a reasonable amount of playing time. One presumes that he preferred to find someplace in Europe, but a spot with the Chicago Fire was apparently the best opportunity that could be found.
The Sounders seemed to move on rather quickly. Miguel Montano started in Ljungberg's place against FC Dallas and played well before being sent off for an ill-advised retaliatory elbow on Brek Shea. Seattle managed a tie despite playing a man down for the final 33 minutes-plus and ultimately went on to win their next three matches.
In the meantime, the Sounders managed to find a player many consider to a longterm upgrade over Ljungberg: Uruguay International Alvaro Fernandez. The midfielder made his debut on Saturday and showed promise in roughly 20 minutes of action.
All that's left is debating Ljungberg's legacy. Here is what the Sounder at Heart crew came up with:
To start I think that one of the most important things to note is that Sigi struggled to find ways to maximize Freddie's talent in conjunction with the rest of the team. He was tried as a forward, a center attacking mid and a right wing.
In October last year we saw the best of Ljungberg when he and Montero were paired up top. Somehow that didn't work to start this season and there was more tinkering in attempts to get the Freddyain to work together in the pitch at the same time.
I definitely don't think the Sounders coaching staff could be accused of not trying enough things with Freddie. Dave is right, they moved him all over the field in an attempt to figure out how he could be best utilized. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to work this year.
He was a total bust as a CAM, he was not particularly useful as a forward and while he showed some promise at right mid, he never seemed satisfied with the number of touches he received there. It would seem that the coaching staff had grown tired of trying to make him happy and had perhaps even decided to bench him, which seems to be what set these things in motion.
I'll start with his legacy, which is the easy part. He did his part in producing a great opening season for the Sounders, with fairly easy qualification for the playoffs and a trophy which also earned us entry into the Champions League. He was also a big name that the Sounders could tout in promotions and marketing, a name that people who knew soccer would recognize and probably have a positive impression of, and at the same time had a resume that could function as an elevator pitch for new fans.
On the field, his contributions were smaller, and as Dave said, Sigi couldn't quite sort out where he could fit in best. He also showed a lot of frustration, and while referees seemed to be a major source, he also seemed frustrated with the level of play in MLS in general and his teammates in particular.
Therefore, on the surface, the trade seems like a bad deal for both Ljungberg and the Sounders. He's still in the same league, with the same refs, and the same level of players. For the Sounders, getting a conditional draft pick for a designated player looks fairly ridiculous. It's not, of course, because our real "compensation" was the roster spot and not having to fork over $250,000. But I still don't know what Freddie gets out of it, except maybe the chance to convince another coach and GM he deserved a contract extension.
The trade does seem bad on the surface, but I think the Sounders get what they need out of it. Ljungberg served his purpose of drawing attention to the Sounders and definitely gets a lot of credit for the successful launch.
Understandably, they didn't want to re-sign him and understandably, Ljungberg wanted a more secure future. The fact that he was willing to go to Chicago tells me that the Sounders had already told him that his starting job was not waiting for him if he came back. I can't imagine staying in MLS was high on his wish list, but it was better than playing for what he probably perceived as a below-market price in Europe. Playing in Chicago exposes him to another potentially lucrative MLS market and could conceivably lead to an improved situation elsewhere.
I wish Ljungberg well and would love to end up meeting the Fire in the playoffs.
The thing is, Seattle have money. They don't really need to be saving it up for a rainy day. Freeing that roster spot and allowing Alvaro Fernandez to play a few minutes against the Earthquakes--and have him available for Tuesday against Metapan--that's where the Sounders really win. Now let's fork over that $250,000 for the other Fredy.
I don't believe that FL10 was the problem with this team earlier in the season. Supporters mock his consistent pouting and also seem to believe he didn't work that hard. The issue, in my opinion, is that he simply didn't fit within the team. He could make a pass and have it go to nowhere, not because he misjudged so much as he anticipated that a teammate would be there, and that teammate wasn't thinking in the same manner. This is why you can't simply create a team of stars (coughManCitycough). You have to actually think about the ways in which the players play.
You're right that the Sounders have a lot of money, and a lot of the league doesn't, but there's no reason we should give them some if we don't have to. Since the roster spot was needed anyway, it made sense to get the deal done so we didn't waste the money. I completely agree with your assessment of why Ljungberg ended up not working out.
The thing is that over time, Ljungberg and the rest of the team looked like they were getting more out of sync, not less, and one would have thought it would go the other way. He also didn't take the kind of leadership role that could have been part of the solution earlier in the season. If he had lifted the team on his back and dragged it up the table after the first few weeks of bad results, then I think the conversation would be very different at this point. If he had, I think Hanauer and Co. wouldn't hesitate to offer him an early extension
There are a couple easy answers that some use to explain the Sounders' success recently, and one of the ones you will see often is that the reason the Sounders are doing well lately is because Ljungberg isn't playing. Sigi has responded to this by pointing out that neither has Evans.
Easy answers aren't necessarily right. The Sounders moved a player who had little value either in MLS, nor in Europe. In essence FL10 was traded for a draft pick and the ability to bring on Alvaro Fernandez, a player without his history.