Photo courtesy of the Chicago Fire
BY ANTHONY ZILIS
When Chicago Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos joined the Fire last offseason, he pledged that his team would play attractive soccer, with more short passing in the midfield.
The departures of playmakers Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Chris Rolfe made that more difficult and left the team sorely lacked creativity in the midfield.
De Los Cobos and the Fire are banking on Freddie Ljungberg changing that.
"Here, they want me to take a little experience I had from Arsenal, where we kept the ball a lot more. Here, no disrespect to the American players, but sometimes they hit it maybe a little bit longer and there's more flight," Ljungberg said Wednesday at Toyota Park in his first meeting with Chicago media.
"I think they want me to get that confidence into the team. We've got great guys on the outside with Marco and Patrick having some speed."
Ljungberg arrived in Chicago Monday after talks with Fire technical director Frank Klopas and owner Andrew Hauptman which were described as happening "a while ago," though a date or time frame was not given.
The Swedish star was impressed by the two, who collaborated on the signing of Mexican designated player Nery Castillo less than three weeks ago.
"They were very persistent," Ljunberg said. "What really sold it to me was how Andrew and Frank were in the meeting and how they really wanted this club to go to the next level. That's what sold it to me, they wanted to win."
Hauptmanhas shown he isn't afraid to open his wallet in order to help the Fire improve. The Ljungberg trade, Klopas said, happened quickly and the owner was happy to oblige Seattle's desire to move the midfielder.
"I keep saying, we're very fortunate and lucky to have an owner that's committed," Klopas said. "It's easy to talk about bringing DP's and we're working hard on some guys. Andrew was right on top of everything and made it happen."
As for Ljungberg's tenuous situation in Seattle, where he was criticized this year by head coach Sigi Schmid for complaining to referees and by goalkeeper Kasey Keller for coming to camp late, Klopas wasn't worried.
"You're always surprised, especially when it comes to DP situations," he said. "Look, there's always two sides to every story. You never know what's there. I'm just glad it worked out for us."
While considering his departure from Seattle, where he helped last year's expansion club to the Western Conference Finals and was named to the MLS best XI, Ljungberg had plenty of offers overseas.
Though he was non-commital on accepting his player option for next season, he decided he couldn't walk away from his two-year contract with MLS.
"For me, it was a question of whether to go back to the Champion's League, there were some teams on that level. Being 33, that was very complimentary," Ljungberg said. "But I felt I made a commitment to MLS, and I felt I should still stay here and try to finish it."
The Chicago skyline probably didn't hurt either.
"When I did my research everybody said it was probably the most beautiful city in America," Ljungberg said.