Photo by ISIphotos.com
By JOSE M. ROMERO
Freddie Ljungberg's days in Seattle were numbered as soon as he was allowed to explore the possibility of going to another team.
Those days in limbo came to an end Friday when the Sounders dealt Ljungberg, Seattle's first designated player, to the Chicago Fire for a conditional draft pick in 2011 or 2012. Ljungberg becomes the Fire's second DP joining Mexican national Nery Castillo, whose signing was announced Thursday.
"I want to start off by saying how proud I am to have been part of the most successful new franchise in MLS history, the Seattle Sounders FC," Ljungberg said in a statement from the team. "I didn't know exactly what to expect when I first came to Seattle but I have to say that how the city and the fans have embraced me has gone beyond my wildest dreams and for that I am forever grateful.
"I also want to thank my teammates who are absolutely great on and off the pitch. I have made some very close friends who I know I will be in contact with forever."
Ljungberg came to Seattle with plenty of hype, handpicked by majority owner Joe Roth and general manager Adrian Hanauer to be the team's designated player. In October of 2008, the midfielder, now 33, got a two-year contract that was to expire this November and made a team-high $1.3 million last season, earning his deal with solid on-field presence and nine assists in the team's inaugural season.
Ljungberg ended his first MLS season on a good note with four assists in the team's final four goals of the regular season, though he was injury-prone and battled migraines on at least two occasions during 2009. He publicly admitted his appreciation for Seattle and it's vibe, and it seemed like the team, city and player were right fits for each other.
Then Ljungberg showed up late for the start of training camp this season, though that was blamed on miscommunication between his agent and the team. The tardiness didn't endear him to team captain Kasey Keller, and Ljungberg resumed his pattern of frequent complaining to and criticism of MLS officials, which didn't endear him to head coach Sigi Schmid.
With Seattle struggling for the first half of the season and the team adding Blaise N'kufo and midfielder Alvaro Fernandez as DPs, the Sounders apparently needed to get rid of Ljungberg fast. The Swedish international and former Arsenal star hadn't scored this season, and the Sounders were depleted in the midfield due to injuries and saddled with Ljungberg's ineffective play. So much so, it appears, that the Sounders were willing to take draft picks just to be rid of him.
UPDATE: Analyzing the deal, Fernandez figures to take over as the main distributor from center midfield. The emergence of Mike Seamon and Miguel Montano, a pair of MLS rookies who look to have the makings of being solid midfielders, also probably made the Sounders more willing to deal. It's hard to imagine Ljungberg as expendable, but he sort of became the odd man out even though Seattle is down two midfielders currently because injury.
Last week. Ljungberg thanked the Seattle fans via Twitter and said on his blog that he appreciated all the love he got from Sounders fans amid speculation about his departure.
"Freddie is a tremendous individual and an exceptional player who contributed greatly to the huge success of Sounders FC, both on and off the field, in the past year and a half," Hanauer said. "Freddie, along with Kasey Keller, gave this club immediate stature in the world's game, and we are grateful for his service. We wish him all the best in Chicago."
Fernandez was added to the club's active roster in a move that coincided with the Ljungberg trade. He can play this Saturday in San Jose.