With MLS Cup in mind, the Seattle Sounders made several key midseason roster moves this summer. Now, as the Sounders gear up for Leg 2 of their Western Conference Semifinal matchup with FC Dallas on Sunday (7:30 pm ET, FS1 in US, TSN in Canada), Seattle hope that those moves will continue to pay dividends at the right time.
Andreas Ivanschitz, Nelson Valdez and Erik Friberg are all Sounders playing key playoff roles who weren’t on the opening day roster. Panamanian center back Roman Torres completes the big name midseason quartet, but a torn ACL ended his season in September.
As they look to move past FC Dallas and into the Western Conference Championship, the Sounders’ playoff hopes figure to hinge greatly on the performances of the trio. Here’s a look at the three new faces who'll be counted on to help the Sounders continue their postseason run.
Home country: Austria
Ivanschitz came to the Sounders with plenty of pedigree. He captained the Austrian national team at 19 and was even referred to by some as the “Austrian David Beckham” early on in his career. He may not have quite lived up to that lofty billing, but he still compiled an impressive resume in Greece, Italy and Germany. So far, the 32-year-old hasn’t had much trouble translating his skill set to MLS.
He scored a goal in his Sounders debut against the Vancouver Whitecaps and also tallied a huge equalizer in the 67th minute of Seattle’s first-leg victory against FC Dallas. But his biggest asset is his devastatingly accurate delivery on set pieces, quickly becoming Seattle’s primary weapon on free kicks and corners. Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid says Ivanschitz’s game contains more versatility than he’s been given credit for.
“We’re not going to bring a guy in just to hit free kicks,” Schmid said after the first leg win over FC Dallas. “The free kicks are like the icing on the cake. He’s still got to have bread and butter to his game.”
Ivanschitz, for his part, is enjoying his foray into MLS as he tries to help springboard the Sounders to their first-ever MLS Cup.
“I’m very happy to be here,” he told reporters after an October training session. “I can’t say it often enough. This is a great team, I love to be on the pitch, on the field every day training with the guys. …I can say, now that I’m playing in MLS, the level [of play] is good and it’s very competitive. It doesn’t matter if you’re on top of the table or if you’re last. It’s very competitive and that’s a very good and interesting thing.”
On a team that has struggled at times to find consistent creativity and attacking potency from the midfield, the addition of Ivanschitz into the fold has made the Sounders more goal-dangerous. Seattle can only hope that continues into Sunday and results in a second-straight Western Conference Championship appearance.
Home country: Paraguay
Ivanschitz wasn’t the only midseason acquisition with international pedigree to join the Sounders this season. Valdez has accumulated 68 caps for the Paraguay national team since 2004, scoring 12 goals. He’s struggled with injuries since joining Seattle in August, but has proven to be another formidable goal-scoring threat to compliment the dynamic duo of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. The Paraguayan has already come through in a big way once this postseason, notching a goal in Seattle’s Knockout Round victory against the LA Galaxy.
Schmid says the transition has gone smoothly from a personality standpoint as well, noting the ease with which Valdez and his fellow new Sounders have managed to fit in with the group.
“They’re just good guys,” Schmid said. “They fit in and mesh with the group very quickly. From that standpoint of the chemistry and the locker room, those guys have all been great.”
Attacking depth was hardly a strength for the Sounders before Valdez and Ivanschitz arrived. Seattle found that out the hard way when Dempsey and Martins were forced out of action for lengthy stretches this summer and the team responded with a franchise-record, 363-minute scoring drought.
Now, with Dempsey, Martins, Ivanschitz and Valdez all in the fold, the Sounders have the makings of an attacking core that only figures to get more potent as they learn each other’s tendencies. The only question with Valdez is whether he can stay healthy for the duration of Seattle’s playoff run.
Home country: Sweden
Friberg was a fan favorite and popular locker room presence for Seattle in his first run with the club back in 2011. After a three-season hiatus spent playing overseas, Friberg is back and has played a key role in keeping the Sounders’ midfield afloat as Osvaldo Alonso and Marco Pappa struggle with health concerns.
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Schmid said Friberg’s past experience with the club and familiarity with his teammates made for an easy transition.
“With Erik Friberg, he’d been here before,” Schmid said this week. “He knew some of the guys on the team. So for him the transition to the group was much easier.”
Friberg came through in one of the biggest moments of Seattle’s season in the knockout round against LA, blasting a failed clearance past Galaxy ‘keeper Donovan Ricketts to give the Sounders the win. He probably shouldn’t be considered a consistent goal-scoring threat (the tally against LA was his first of the season) but he has shown his aptitude for acting as a facilitator in his time on the field.
“He’s very clean, he’s very simple,” Sounders president and general manager Garth Lagerwey said after Friberg’s acquisition in June. “Everything is one or two touches, he has a very good vision for the field. I think he’s a player who’s really going to help us connect passes.”
With Alonso still working his way back from a groin injury that has put his status for Sunday and the rest of the postseason in jeopardy, Seattle could very well end up having to lean on Friberg heavily once again in their central midfield on Sunday.