SEATTLE — Chicago’s Freddie Ljungberg didn’t get a moment’s peace. Every time he touched the ball Saturday at Qwest Field, he heard the unrelenting boos. From the first minute to the 90th, Seattle’s former Designated Player was hounded by the crowd.
Despite the harsh reception, the veteran midfielder was graceful in the postmatch press conference.
“I thought the fans were amazing,” Ljungberg said. “Of course they booed me during the game, but before the game and after the game, they were cheering. I can understand that and it was a nice reception.”
It wasn’t just the fans who harassed Ljungberg. He also felt he was being man-marked by Seattle defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, especially in the second half. Ljungberg said he did his best to contribute by pulling Alonso out of the middle, thus giving Fire midfielders John Thorrington and Logan Pause more room to operate.
In the end, it was not enough to preserve the draw. A missed marking assignment left Fredy Montero all alone in the penalty area and Seattle escaped with a late 2-1 win. Ljungberg said he was “devastated” by the loss, which he chalked up to two marking errors at critical moments. [inline_node:317198]
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And while the result on the field was not to his liking, the Swedish star said he enjoyed the other elements of the match in his former stomping grounds. Throughout his departure, Ljungberg has maintained that he still has great relationships with the players and front-office staff in Seattle.
“Although I was only here for one-and-a-half years, I feel like I made some friends that I will keep for the rest of my life,” Ljungberg said.
As proof of that, he was headed out to dinner after the match with Steve Zakuani, Peter Vagenas and a handful of other players. Zakuani joked that since the Fire lost, Ljungberg would be picking up the tab.
In the Seattle locker room, Kasey Keller downplayed the reported tension that many believed centered around him and Ljungberg.
“It was just a game and we did what we needed to do, which was cool,” Keller said. “People were trying to make more out of this [than there was].
“I’m hearing that there was something between me and Freddie and that’s why – I mean, give me a break. That had nothing to do with it. It was just a case that things didn’t work out and he moved on. I wish him the best of luck as always.”
If anything, the tension may still be simmering between Seattle coach Sigi Schmid and Ljungberg. Each took the opportunity to needle the other in their postgame comments. [inline_node:307919]
Schmid went first. When asked about the Montero’s style of play, the Seattle coach slid in a jab that could be construed as a slight toward Ljungberg’s inability to get his teammates involved.
“An old coach told me … that dribblers don't make it in this game,” started Schmid. “What he meant to say by that is when you look at the great dribblers in the game, whether it's a George Best or a [Diego] Maradona or a [Lionel] Messi, they are also very good passers of the ball.
“I think Fredy Montero has that ability. So if you are a good passer of the ball and you can dribble as well and have something extra, that is [the icing] on the cake.”
Ljungberg responded with a sideways swipe of his own at Schmid’s tactics.
“We felt we played well,” Ljungberg said. “We keep the ball more than Seattle tries to do.
“Seattle are going a bit more straightforward, long-ball system and hoping for the second ball. We kind of felt we could control it if we kept the ball, which we did for moments in the second half. That’s why it’s quite devastating to concede on a long ball.”
If there’s still some lingering resentment on either side, there will be another chance to settle the matter on the field. The two teams meet again on Sept. 25 at Toyota Park in a game that will likely have playoff implications for both clubs.