After years spent eagerly awaiting the return of Erik Friberg, Saturday's return to Centurylink Field for the Swedish international definitely could have been a more memorable match than what resulted. While the Sounders attacking corps was varying shades of lame, sick, and dying for much of the game, their midfield was structured and cohesive despite deploying in a fast dynamic setup. Friberg was the glue that held that trio together.
In a deep 3-man midfield, Erik Friberg himself had a pretty ordinary game by the counting stats. 37 touches in just over 55 minutes is a poor showing as involvement goes, but considering the bulk of the Sounders possession was just shuttling the ball back and forth between Tyrone Mears, Cristian Roldan, Osvaldo Alonso and Chad Marshall, it's not an egregious problem. On the passing side of the equation, Friberg was content to push aggressive passes up the wings and out wide to his attacking partners, stretching the field of play. He came away from the match with a 71% passing accuracy, including two key passes, and while the results didn't match the intent, it was a definite step up in production from the poor showings that Gonzalo Pineda has registered of late.
But where Friberg really shone was in his pace and positioning, on both offense and defense. Consistently in the correct position and with pace to burn, Friberg was essential in shutting down the Rapids attack through the middle and responded well to late runs into the Colorado midfield. Considering the Sounders have had to cope with exactly that tactic in their two previous meetings with the Rapids, Friberg provided another elegant solution.
With Alonso not required to carried the bulk of the defensive duties, the Cuban was free to attack and roam more in midfield on offense, finding pockets of space to work in and around with both Friberg and Rose. That fluidity was effective in evading and moving through the Rapids press in the middle, but without attacking outlets they ended up recycling the ball amongst themselves before shuttling it back to Tyrone Mears.
Friberg definitely showed rustiness at times; he and Alonso tripping over each other as each moved and learned throughout the match. With more games under their belt those issues between them will iron themselves out. While there's still room for improvement from Friberg -- and his performance in no way mitigates that the Sounders offense is completely anemic -- there's also quite a few reasons to be extremely excited come August
And a midfield composed of Marco Pappa, Erik Friberg, and Osvaldo Alonso feeding Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins should be bright enough light that perhaps the Sounders -- and us -- can focus on the end of this long, dark, and miserable tunnel.