TUKWILA, Wash. – Jeff Parke was in a unique position to discern a rift between Freddie Ljungberg and the rest of the Seattle Sounders squad. The veteran defender was with the Sounders in preseason, then left for several weeks while he waited for his contract situation to be resolved.
In the interim, Seattle got off to a rocky start in the Major League Soccer season and the rumors of a rift involving Ljungberg intensified. When Parke returned in May, he definitely noticed a “separation” had grown in the locker room.
“You could sense that there was [a divide] maybe a little bit,” Parke said. “I wasn’t too familiar with everything because the year before, I wasn’t here and when I came, I was only with the team for a month or so. I didn’t really get a read on what was going on.
“When I was here, everyone was professional. Maybe they had some differences off the field, but when they were on the field. Maybe he and a couple of the guys didn’t get along, but it wasn’t noticeable and they didn’t make it seen out in public.”
Since that time, the rumors of the rift have become widespread around the league. Opinions on the true cause that led to Ljungberg’s departure vary. Parke chalked it up to “egos,” saying that it was a situation involving “guys who want to be the top dog and get talked about the most.”
Pete Vagenas said there were some events that happened behind the scene to which the players were not privy.
The circumstances behind Ljungberg’s departure still haven’t been fully uncovered, but unwillingness on Seattle’s part to negotiate a contract extension definitely played a role.
“It was a situation where [ownership] weren't really willing to make commitments going into the following season,” Schmid said last month. “I think that was primary reason for him [...] to say, 'Hey, I got to start looking at some options to see exactly where I'll be next year.'"
Even Schmid’s relationship with the star player became increasingly strained. In May, Schmid called out his star for arguing with the referee too often. Goalkeeper Kasey Keller joined in, saying that, “At some stage there has to be some accountability.”
Nearly a month after the Swede’s departure, it looks as though both parties have prospered. Ljungberg has enjoyed a personal jump in form for the Fire while the Sounders have put together a massive run to get back into the playoff race.
After Thursday’s practice, Schmid took a more reflective stance on Ljungberg’s trade.
“We stepped into a good run right after he left,” Schmid said. “But, can you say that’s because he left? I don’t think so. I think we might have hit a good run as well. We played some good games early on in the season where we just didn’t finish.
“But we played some good soccer and did some good things. Sometimes things for whatever reasons, just like a marriage, sometimes things don’t entirely work out the way you want them.”