FREDDIE LJUNGBERG COLUMN

MLS needs to address the quality of the pitches

November 13, 2009
LjungbergBy Freddie Ljungberg
(Archive)

My first season in MLS has come to an end. Of course we're extremely disappointed to be knocked out 1-0 on aggregate by the Houston Dynamo.

GettyImages / Thomas B. SheaFreddie Ljungberg and the Sounders fell 1-0 on aggregate to Houston in a hard-fought Western Conference semifinal.

It wasn't much of a football game, but it was two teams fighting as hard as they could against each other. I felt like it would be decided on a mistake or something like that -- that's normally how a tight game like that is. Along with the Columbus Crew, Houston is one of the best teams we played all year and the Dynamo deserved to win over 210 minutes, but at the same time we felt unfortunate.

The league has high aspirations, but there are some small things that need to be addressed to keep growing. Tops on that list would be the quality of the pitch, in this case Houston's Robertson Stadium. Granted, both teams had to play on the pitch and the Dynamo won fair and square, but to me it's all about the whole package. Robertson Stadium has American football lines and the surface is like a sandpit that hinders running or passing the ball on it. For such an important game as the playoffs, or any game for that matter, to be played on a pitch like that, I think it's something people have to think about.

You have so many talented young U.S. players in the league, but if you don't give them a chance to show how good they are, they won't get the credit they deserve.

It's a show. It's a theater.

And if the league wants to elevate itself to the next level, you have to give the players the opportunity to play good football. In my opinion, the pitch in Houston wasn't playable. And at the end of the day, if you want soccer to grow, you have to give great players a good pitch to play on. My friends in Europe ask how I can play with American football lines on the pitch. Small things like that can mean a lot in terms of building respect outside of America.

MLS Cup playoffs
Friday
L.A. vs. Houston
11 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com

Saturday
Chicago vs. RSL
Toyota Park Stadium, Bridgeview, Ill.
8 p.m. ET

In a lot of countries, the quality of the pitch is a top priority. And even here in the U.S., it's possible to accommodate both sports. In Seattle, we share the stadium with the Seahawks, but we never have to play on American football lines. They make it perfect and that makes such a big difference. It looks professional. Some of the franchises are doing a very good job.

I can't praise Seattle enough. The reception that I've gotten in a new place where I didn't know anyone has been great.

At the end of the day, we had 200 fans in Seattle greeting us at the airport after losing to the Dynamo. I was really surprised and touched by that because we got knocked out. But I think that shows that we've broken some ground in MLS.

Of course as players we always want to do better, but it's great to know that you have that support no matter what the result.

It was also quite interesting to play in front of former President George H. W. Bush. I don't think I've ever played in front of a president -- not that I know of, anyway. For me, it shows an interest in the game and it was pretty cool that he was there. In England the Queen, or someone from the royal family, is always there to give out the trophy and it's not always like that here, so it was nice that he was at the game.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my boys back in London, though.

I'm an Arsenal boy and everybody knows that. They may have dropped some points against West Ham recently, but they have been playing really well and scoring a lot of goals. They're now second in the league, so I don't get so much stick from Man United supporters like I have before. I hope it lasts for the whole season. So good luck, boys!

And with World Cup playoffs this week, I know who I think will win on paper, but the weather is getting bad in Europe right now, so some scores may not look how you'd think. Russia will probably go through and France is probably strong enough. Ukraine has surprised me, especially in the group with England. Before I thought they would play tight with Greece, but Ukraine has impressed me and I think they will get through. It's also been great to see Bosnia playing with the big boys. It's always nice to see small nations fighting up there and getting better every year. Portugal may be struggling a bit, but they have a lot of good, experienced players and that should push them through.

Other / Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park ZooThe Sounders have been a big hit in Seattle in their inaugural season.

Which brings me to my last point.

My first year in the MLS has been a fantastic year. I tried to read and do my homework coming in, but I've learned so much from my teammates. I've traveled all around America and seen people and places that I never would have seen otherwise. All I knew about Chicago is that it's the Windy City and that when I passed through there once, there was a lot of snow. But walking around the streets when we played there, I saw that it's a beautiful city. It was great to experience and it changed my impression so drastically. You have to experience that firsthand to truly understand.

It's been a great trip. See you at my own blog.

Freddie Ljungberg is a midfielder with the Seattle Sounders. He also formerly played for Arsenal in the English Premiership and the Swedish national team. He writes daily at his own blog, www.freddie.speaksup.com.