Friday, October 23, 2009
Enjoying life in Seattle
It was great to see the U.S. qualify for the World Cup and I think that's great for American soccer, but as a Swede, of course I'm upset that we couldn't qualify. Our biggest rival is Denmark and we knocked them out last qualification round and unfortunately they knocked us out this time.
Former Arsenal star Freddie Ljungberg has been a huge hit with Seattle fans. (Corky Trewin/GettyImages)
It's been 12 years since Sweden failed to qualify for the World Cup, so naturally we're not happy. Normally to qualify, it's imperative to win your home games and we failed to do that. We lost at home to Denmark and drew to Portugal. That left us with a must-win game in Denmark on Saturday, and it's never easy to go into Copenhagen and get a win. In most groups in Europe, the two best teams qualified. The most amazing feat was Spain winning all 10 games to win its group. The Spanish are a great football team and they play so well even when they are away from home. They have such a strong belief in how they play the game and it's beautiful to watch. That's how I think the game should be played and we're trying to do that here in Seattle.It was a massive decision for me to come to America, and a lot of people in Europe thought I was mad. They thought I should continue playing at the top level and if I wanted to come to America, then I should come later. Of course there's a big difference from Europe to MLS, but I think, and I've heard this from other Europeans too, that this league doesn't lack effort or physical ability compared with any other European league. However, the big difference I see is in the buildup of the game. Sometimes in MLS, teams just play physical and hit it long and fight for the ball and then fight for the second ball -- that's a football style that is less about skill and ability.The way Seattle tries to play, and I'm proud of this, is to play through the midfield and play a game of one- and two-touch football. We've had success with that because American teams aren't very used to that. We move the ball well and one of the results of that is that some teams just defend because they are scared of how we play. And it looks like the fans enjoy it, too.
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Soccer's not just about scoring loads of goals. The man of the match can be a central midfielder that doesn't score any goals, but he controls the game and plays well and I think that's the game the fans enjoy watching. If you look at teams like Barcelona and Arsenal, the fans celebrate when they see a move that entails 40 passes, even if it doesn't result in a goal, because it's a beautiful thing to watch and they know how hard it is.When the Sounders played against Barcelona and Chelsea in the summer, it was a great opportunity for our players to play against the best in the world and see what that level of play is like. They saw that you can slow down the tempo and hold the ball, then, all of a sudden, explode and that's something that we've tried. Maybe the score sheet didn't flatter us, but our coach, Sigi Schmid, let all of our players play against them and have that experience. If we had put our first 11 on the field and played a proper game -- sit back, defend and try to hit them on a counter attack -- that would have destroyed the party that the fans came to watch. Seattle fans were not only great in those big friendlies, they've been great all year. And they are much more relaxed here in Seattle. It's been a total change from what I was used to in London. The people in Seattle just have a way about them -- they leave you in peace even if they recognize you. I can go out and walk my dog and it's a quiet neighborhood. It's just a great mentality.
It's been a change, but it's a change that I've been looking for. The weather's been great, too. Everybody in Europe says it rains in Seattle. But for me, the weather in Seattle is the best weather I've had anywhere. It's one of the most beautiful cities in America. To drive on the 520 Bridge on a clear day and the water is flat and you see the mountains in the background and there's Mt. Rainier -- the scenery is just amazing.I've enjoyed spending time with my teammates, too. The Sounders are very multicultural. During my time at Arsenal, we had one team with 14 different national teams represented. It's nice to be able to learn from people of different cultures. I have fun when Tyrone Marshall is speaking to his friends back home in Jamaica in his Jamaican accent I can't understand even a third of what he's saying. If I were to say one thing negative about MLS, it would be that the difference between a hard tackle and a dirty tackle isn't understood. I've played in England for most of my career, it's the hardest league in Europe. But they know the difference between a hard tackle and a dirty play that can injure your opponent. That's a coward's tackle. You can play hard and go into a tackle hard without trying to injure a player.
I heard from some people that the travel would be difficult, and it is, but at Arsenal we played in the Champions League every year and that meant we'd go to Moscow or to Greece and that's still a 5-6 hour flight. I've gotten to see so much of America. I've been to the desert in the Middle East, but I've never experienced anything like the humidity and heat in Houston. And they said that was a good day.We also went to Toronto in the cold of March and the fans were behind their team like it was the middle of summer. When you're building this league, support like that has a high value. You can't create fans like that. It was nice to see that the fan base was so strong. I've had a great welcome in all of the cities around the league and love playing here. It's rewarding to go to a game in somewhere like Colorado and see fans wearing Arsenal and Swedish national team shirts. Last week, we played on the best grass pitch in the league and it was in an old baseball stadium every week it's something new here. 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.