If the decision were up to Freddie Ljungberg, the Swedish star midfielder would be on the field next week when the Seattle Sounders FC plays their inaugural game.
The team isn’t so sure that Ljungberg’s surgically repaired left hip is ready for its American debut.
“I want to start playing now but they want me to be careful,” Ljungberg said Tuesday after practice. “We’re so much ahead of schedule that they’re scared it’s too good to be true and they are worried that if I start training really hard, I’d have a setback.”
Seattle makes its Major League Soccer debut March 19 against the New York Red Bulls, but it’s likely Ljungberg – the fourth-highest-paid player in the MLS at $1.3 million per season – will be just a spectator on opening night.
He is nearly three months removed from surgery to repair a partially torn labrum and shave a small amount of bone where the hip meets the femur.
The issues with his hip were also causing hamstring problems that hampered his final two seasons playing at Arsenal in the English Premier League. Ljungberg said doctors guessed he first injured the hip two years ago.
“That’s why sometimes my hamstring has been straining,” Ljungberg said. “Like (the doctor) said, ‘If you had a lower pain threshold you would have said something was wrong with your hip,’ and I would have been better. I’m mostly just happy that it’s done now and I can get on with it and don’t have that nagging thing with my hamstring.”
With Ljungberg likely out for Seattle’s opener, his debut could come on March 28 against Real Salt Lake or April 4 at Toronto. But first he needs to complete a full practice. In his first two days, Seattle’s coaches are allowing Ljungberg to participate in basic drills until the team goes through 11-on-11 scrimmaging. Then Ljungberg goes off to the sideline and does conditioning with Seattle’s fitness coach.
He’s also having extra training sessions after practices to help increase strength and stability in his hip and hamstring.
“Freddie’s a lot further along than we anticipated at this stage. He’s made a pretty good recovery,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “He’s worked very hard at it and for him right now it’s about doing the fine-tuning things: making sure he can run full out, strike a ball full out and all those things. And (we) also want to be smart. It’s better to be a day late than a day early and have a guy get re-injured again.”
Midfielder Peter Vagenas joined the team along with Ljungberg when it returned from training in Argentina. Vagenas is recovering from knee surgery and Schmid said is probably two weeks away from returning to full practice. Vagenas played last year with Los Angeles. … Defender Jeff Parke, whose rights belong to Seattle, had a MLS suspension for using a banned substance modified by the league. Parke played for New York last season and was selected by Seattle in the MLS expansion draft, but has yet to sign a contract with the Sounders. As part of his modified suspension, Parke still must sit out four more games, but could start practicing with Seattle when the regular season begins if the team signs him to a contract.