Ljungberg adapting to life in MLS
Freddie Ljungberg turned back the clock Saturday, conjuring a moment of brilliance that reminded fans why he was considered one of the most dangerous players in the English Premier League during his glory days with Arsenal.
In the Seattle Sounders' 2-0 win over Toronto FC, the Swedish star opened the scoring in the 15th minute when he played a quick ball to teammate Nate Jaqua before turning on the jets and slipping between two defenders, collecting the return pass and coolly slipping it by Toronto goalkeeper Greg Sutton.
If you closed your eyes and imagined hard enough, you could have sworn he was still wearing an Arsenal jersey and that the he received a standing ovation from the Highbury faithful after depositing the ball into the back of the net.
The goal was the first of what Ljungberg hopes will be many for the Sounders, Major League Soccer's newest expansion franchise, which signed the Swede to a lucrative, multi-million-dollar contract last October.
The goal also sent a strong message to critics who had prematurely written him off.
Prior to signing with Seattle, Ljungberg, who turns 32 later this month, had sat idle since last summer when he negotiated a buyout of the four-year contract he signed with West Ham United of the Premier League on July 23, 2007.
Ljungberg was a beloved icon at Arsenal, where he scored 46 goals in 216 appearances. But his time at West Ham was anything but successful — he tallied just twice in 25 matches in an injury-plagued season.
Most thought his career was over, but the Swede was given a life line when he landed in Seattle and underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip.
Recovered from hip surgery
Now he's completely healthy and ready to make a lasting impression in MLS as the league's newest designated player.
"The hip is fixed and I feel the best I've felt in many years. I feel very sharp and fast, so that's great. But to get my full fitness back I need more games under my belt, and then I can run a bit more, so the best is yet to come," Ljungberg told CBCSports.ca in a one-on-one interview.
Toronto midfielder Carl Robinson, who played against Ljungberg during his time in England, attested to the fact that the Swede still has plenty to offer.
"He's still lively," Robinson said. "He's come from England, he's had a great career and played for some top clubs and you can see that. He's still a difficult player to play against."
"He's a clever player, he's a big-time player," offered Toronto coach John Carver.
Ljungberg said making the transition to MLs from the English Premiership, where he spent 10 seasons, has been relatively easy because of what he views as the biggest similarity between the leagues.
"MLS is a very physical league, just like in England. Every game is a fight. … It's good, though," Ljungberg said.
Change of scenery
After spending the previous 10 years living and playing in London, Ljungberg was ready for a change of scenery, and he couldn't imagine a better place to continue his career because ot the city's proximity to the Pacific Ocean.
"Seattle is beautiful," Ljungberg said. "I'm Swedish but I've lived in London my entire adult life, so I was missing the water a little bit. Seattle reminds me of Sweden. I'm very happy there and I have relatives in Vancouver, so it's great."
As for the Sounders' surprising start to the season — the expansion club has posted shutout victories in their first three games — Ljungberg credits the team's ownership group for putting together
"The owners are very professional and they want to make an impact. They have a five-year plan to make the team really big, and I think that trickles down to the players," Ljungberg said.
"Some people were underestimating us as an expansion franchise, but we showed that we are a team to take serious."