SEATTLE – Finally, a Seattle Sounders debut that wasn’t extraordinary.
Swedish star Freddie Ljungberg played his first MLS game and first game of any kind in nine months Saturday night, finishing a routine final 29 minutes while his Sounders beat Real Salt Lake 2-0.
Fredy Montero scored his third goal in two games, 16 minutes after Ljungberg entered. And rookie top overall draft choice Steve Zakuani set up Nate Jaqua’s goal with a brilliant move in the first half before Ljungberg replaced him in the 61st minute.
Seattle joined the 1998 Chicago Fire as the only MLS expansion teams to begin 2-0-0. That Chicago team ended up winning the league championship.
Real Salt Lake, coming off a 10-10-10 year, produced few scoring chances as the last MLS team to begin its season.
Montero scored with a rocket-like shot that zipped over the hands of leaping goalkeeper Nick Rimando in the 77th minute. Last week in the Sounders’ 3-0 win over New York, the franchise’s debut, Montero became the second player to have two goals and an assist in his first MLS game.
Seattle goalkeeper Kasey Keller preserved his second consecutive shutout with a sliding save in the 49th minute on a breakaway by Yura Movsisyan.
Ljungberg entered to roars from the Sounders’ second consecutive sellout crowd of 28,548, which stood throughout most of the raw, damp, 39-degree night. Ljungberg responded by raising both hands above his head and clapping a few times as he jogged onto the pitch for his first game since June 18, for Sweden against Russia in the European Championship.
Ljungberg, 31, one of the top offensive midfielders in the English Premier League a few years ago with Arsenal, had surgery in December to repair a torn labrum in his left hip – cartilage that lines the hip socket to stabilize and cushion the joint.
Ljungberg said he is a month ahead of his doctors’ original estimates on his return, thanks to extensive rehabilitation in Sweden. The league’s fourth-highest paid player at $1.3 million this season touched the ball only a few times, and never near a position to score.