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Ljungberg and Nowak continue war of words

Freddie Ljungberg (

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Peter Nowak's public criticism of Freddie Ljungberg after last week's 2-0 loss by Nowak's Philadelphia Union against Ljungberg's Sounders figured to cause a stir, but the lingering bad blood fostered by those comments and Ljungberg's response has led to an on-going war of words.

On one side you have Ljungberg, who criticized what he thought was over-the-top physical play by Philadelphia. On the other side you have Nowak, who accused Ljungberg of diving and trying to influence referees with play-acting.

Nowak went right after Ljungberg after the match with some scathing comments. Ljungberg then wrote on his blog about the injury to his back he blamed on a hard first-half foul. Ljungberg then followed up by calling Nowak's comments "low" and "pathetic".

Here is a video of the play in question, a first-half sequence that left Ljungberg on the ground and rookie Toni Stahl facing the first of two yellow cards he would receive on the night:

The video doesn't show much contact, if any, but Ljungberg hits the ground hard and gets up holding his lower back (there is a point where Stahl's leg goes behind Ljungberg where contact could occurred). Ljungberg has been reportedly receiving treatment on his back ever since and is questionable for Saturday's match vs. the Red Bulls.

So who is right and who is wrong? The truth lies somewhere in the middle if you ask me. Philadelphia certainly played a physical match with several indefensible tackles (including one UFC-style tackle by David Myrie), but Ljungberg has made a habit of diving and complaining to referees since arriving in MLS last year. That said, it would seem like a stretch to think that Ljungberg and the Sounders have concocted an entire charade to pretend Ljungberg was injured (though some Philly fans might argue he could have hurt himself throwing himself to the Qwest Field turf).

Who do you think is right in this war of words? Cast your vote here:

What do you think of the video? Starting to wonder if Ljungberg was injured by a foul, or do you see contact? Think Nowak was out of line for criticizing Ljungberg, or was there truth in Nowak's words?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. I love the EPL, but have you seen all of the divers in the league? Drogba, Rooney, Gerrard, Torres…the list goes on.

    I agree that Ljungberg is a very good player; but all great players take a dive sometime (as in the clip). It isn’t surprising Ljungberg would make a meal of it since the ref was card-happy.

  2. From what I’ve seen… FL definitely gets fouled, but he also embellishes it quite a bit. You get fouled like that you fall with your face and torso looking at the floor, not looking up and arching you back like that. The arching of the back is probably what tweaked his back.

    Again, it was definitely a foul. A yellow card bc it was from behind, but it wasn’t enough to hurt his back if he didn’t try to embellish it.

    Philly did play too physical. Nowak should’ve kept his comments to himself.

    Either way, there’s no convincing Sounders fans of FL’s embellishment and Union fans that it was yellow card foul.

    Prediction for this Saturday: RBNY ties in Seattle, only bc Kandji and Richards can’t finish their chances.

  3. exactly! he crumbles to the ground to be dramatic and that probably resulted in more pain that a little knock on the tailbone

    stahl makes contact with his butt or tailbone if anything

    no back trauma here freddie!

  4. I doubt many would claim Stahl was out to hurt him… but rather making a clumsy challenge from behind without a prayer of playing the ball. It doesn’t particularly help that he kneed a different Seattle player in the back in the same game.

    The contact would be at three seconds in your own video. You can watch that particular angle and shot as many times as you like and you’ll never be able to reasonably come up with the conclusion that he DIDN’T make contact, because it’s a lousy camera angle. Salazar was viewing straight on from upfield.

  5. Freddie’s a serial diver who should be arrested! Nowak and his team should be charged with war crimes! Freddie’s never dived in his life, just look at the video! Ives is a know nothing jerk whose singular mission is to destroy Ljungberg’s reputation!

    yawn… Next topic…
    (though it is interesting that more than half the voters say Ljungberg dives too much AND the Philly Union played dirty.)

  6. Are you serious Ives? I have seen Ljungberg play for so long and he has never seem the bit of a diver.

    I knew Philly was gonna be physical team by the lack of attacking quality it has. But its a team that has good defenders.

    It was a physical game in rainy conditions which would lead to more contact then usual on turf.

    And as someone that saw the game live, I can say that it was foul. If it was the WWE I would have clapped. But that goes to show just why the league needs to open up the purse a little more and get quality players in this league.

  7. People hate Seattle bc they are jealous that they are good and have an amazing fan base and owners group. They deserve the bragging rights. They are the new class of MLS. And I’m an RSL fan, so no biases here.

  8. This article/poll is just SBI’s way of supporting his Red Bulls club ahead of their match against Seattle this weekend. At least Peter Nowak has the guts to say what he means directly.

  9. Seattle players dive. We all now that very well. Question remains–are the refs dumb enough to call each one a foul? Montero should take some acting classes….he goes way over the top in his “pain”.

  10. Nowak didn’t say anything in that press conference that wasn’t already said in the in-game thread here. In my mind, if you call a player a fake and a cheat only to find out he’s getting fluid drained from his back, you owe him an apology.

  11. I think there is a problem with people’s definition of diving; when a player gets hit and goes down it’s not diving, maybe you think he could have stayed on his feet but that doesn’t negate the fact that he was fouled and therefore not diving. A dive is when there is no contact and the player dives to the ground, anyone who sees no contact when the two players converge on Freddie L is blind. You want to say he could have jumped over one player, spun around and fended off the other ala Bruce Lee and continued on with the ball, so be it, but he was clearly fouled.

    And Nowak is a disgrace to the game and the profession, he admitted that his team is going to continue with cheap thugish play regardless of the cards and suspensions because he doesn’t know how to coach technical soccer and doesn’t have the talent. He represents everything that is wrong with the MLS, too bad for Philly because I was excited for them joining the league, now I feel sorry for them.

  12. I hope this means sounders fans will quit reading the site since everyone is clearly against you and ya’ll are clearly know more then the rest of us and are completly unbiased.

    Scarves Down

  13. You clearly are blinded by your love for Seattle because his last second heroics to sell a marginal foul caused the guy to throw his back out.

  14. Knee to his back- the guy hurts his back because he does such a crazy jerk after the initial contact. If anything Stahl comes up into his butt but it was his reaction that got him hurt. Dumb foul by Stahl, he goes for the ball from behind but if Ljunberg just played the play normal he probably wouldn’t be hurt. Also, I agree Ljunberg plays a technically gifted game and in the MLS that can lead to extra fouls but his whining and rolling around on the ground is probably what leads to more fouls. We all played back in the day and when you saw an opponent continually do that crap you went after him harder. As Ives pointed out earlier Scheletto doesn’t take as many fouls and he is just as technical of a player.

  15. The big difference is Messi is not being mugged by the likes of MLS defenders. And the game is called differently in Spain.


  16. There is a difference between a dive and going into a challenge knowing you’re going to win a freekick. The first is a travesty to the game, the second is a skill at reading the game. Although he does dive, I think Freddie, after all his years, knows what he’s doing when he draws fouls at the top of the box.

    Our own Jozy is getting very good at positioning himself to draw the foul in dangerous areas. If only we had a set piece taker who could take that opportunity at the national level…

  17. I keep hearing and reading about how physical MLS is and players coming from abroad should adapt to it. But I think MLS is beyond physical and what referees allow to happen is just horrendous. Like a Dutch friend pointed out in one game, maybe physical is not the right word, instead it should be called clumsy.

    Teams have all these big and strong defenders and midfielders trying to contain the more skillful players, and since they do not have the skills or know-how, they use borderline tactics to do their job with the consent of the referees.

    If we keep going down this road the league might just end up looking like the SPL and I doubt many people would enjoy that, unless you are a fan of rudimentary soccer.

    In some sense, this whole situation reminds me of the NHL a few years ago when thuggery was getting out of control and it was painful seeing the more skilled players getting mauled by the other team’s goons. At some point, the league had to change the rules to protect the more skilled players.


  18. I really disagree. If you have played much soccer you were probably kneed in the lower back at one point, and you definitely stop moving your feet because taking steps or moving your upper legs pulls right on the area where you were hit. While I do agree that in any other circumstances it looks like acting, in this case it’s a normal reaction. Even how he hits the ground fits with taking a knee to the back. I also disagree that a player needs to always try and stay on his feet. In a fair world where the right decisions are nearly always made, I would agree, but the fact is that the idiotic refs punish you if you manage to stay on your feet. It’s almost like they are saying: “Well, I guess it wasn’t really that bad then, was it?”

  19. Freddy has repeatedly pointed out that the MLS is a very physical league, so in that respect he needs to learn to deal with it.

    If Messi fell everytime he was hit he would not be able to score all those wonderful goals. In general and excluding the PK area there’s more to be gained from staying on your feet verses diving imho

  20. There may have been a foul on the play, but Ljunberg clearly stops moving his feet so he’ll be sure to go down.

    This kind of play has been so commonplace that it’s very hard for refs to distinguish real fouls from fake. It’s become on more tactic, like falling on the ball, that players use to force a call from the ref.

    I’m in favor of waving off any foul where the player stops trying to stay on his feet – that would clean this stuff up in a hurry.

    The whole business with dragging the feet across a diving keeper, throwing the arms up in the air, etc. needs to go. Physiologists have analyzed reels of replays and determined that these kinds of reactions are “unnatural” for someone getting fouled. A real foul has someone putting their arms out in front to break their fall, not overhead like they are praying for rain.

    Lj may have been fouled, but that’s no reason for both his legs to instantly freeze. That’s training in action!

  21. This is amazing. People still aren’t seeing it, or don’t want to see it. Watch the video again and keep stopping it as the defender starts to put his leg near Freddy. It clearly shows it was a bad tackle from behind AND that he was kneed in the lower back. There is NO WAY this was acting.

  22. Ives,

    You’re hanging with ‘fair and (un-)balanced Fox folks too much, it doesn’t become you. Your poll is clearly skewed – but oh yeah ‘we decide.’ Sure thing.

  23. SBI–Load the video of the the first yellow between Califf and Montero. While they are setting up the kick you can CLEARLY see Freddy “Wink” to someone. That was the biggest dive of all. And it cost a yellow to PHilly.

    MLS needs to start suspending stuff like that and then resend the yellow card.

  24. I love having someone of Freddie’s quality and rep in the league, never mind which team he is on.

    Ok some may resent Seattle, but quality of MLS play has to begin to improve somewhere.

    Evidently it won’t be Philadelphia. Bummer.

  25. Of all the fouls I saw at the game that was the worst, I would think that would be worthy of a red. Didn’t even consider playing the ball, from the north end it looked like a pro wrestling move.

  26. Ives – and your reply on choosing this camera angle to share when others are available to you presumably?

    Fact is more skilled players like Freddie get beat up in MLS, and yeah they’ll dive to try to draw fouls on some of the culprits.

    Until that changes (the amateurish/unskilled ‘tackling’ a la NFL), the league’s quality of play doesn’t either.

    Last thing MLS can afford is to have one of its few players with international respect – Freddie – get knocked out by wannabe’s.

    The cheat is Nowak & co.

  27. There really does seem to be a lot of confusion regarding this tackle as shown by this video. As I stated before, I now clearly see the knee to the lower back, after not seeing it at all the first few times I reviewed the video. It’s very deceptive.

    I think the easiest conclusion to draw from just watching the video all the way through, normally, is that there was no contact and that Ljungberg is acting. especially since no one would naturally fall down like that. However, when I came back here again to check on more comments and watched it again, I saw quite clearly that Freddy was kneed in the back. I saw it this time because I stopped the video and just happened to stop it right as the defender’s knee was making contact with Freddy’s back. It DOES show in THIS video if you stop it in the right spot.

    Also, there was a good observation by someone here who said the ref should also have red carded for the tackle from behind. The tackle was about as from behind as you can get. He put his leg right in between and then through Freddy’s legs. Freddy may act and go down to easily, and complain too much, but he was absolutely right regarding this tackle.

  28. I love people like you, who seem to not even pay attention to what a post says and then respond to it anyway. I was very careful to make it clear that my comment was on the tackle being shown in the video, and that my comment was based on that video. Comprendez vous?

    Who are you calling a drone, know it all?

    Upon looking at the video again I now see that Ljungberg was hit in the lower back. I didn’t see it any of the other times that I looked at it because it’s natural to assume that the incident in question occurred when they all came together, when in fact Ljungberg is hit very early from behind before they all come together. The defender knees Freddy just before he pushes his leg in between Freddy’s legs. Then they all come together and Freddy doesn’t seem to get touched.

    I still don’t know what you are talking about when you say he arches his back away. He is NOT arching his back at all. It just goes straight and dead.

  29. Can we clear something up: Nowak was not talking about the yellow cards, but instead was referring to Ljungberg diving on (watching the game live, I counted three to four) numerous times throughout the game. And to make it worse (as if the acting wasn’t enough), he would just get up and stare down the ref. Come on Freddie, you are better than that!

  30. I think the other defender coming it at his feet did more than Stahl in terms of discomfort.

    I’ve been a fan of Freddie since his Arsenal days and he has always been a little injury prone. I remember reading how he can’t eat cheese and wine because it causes serious migranes.

    However, I do not like this “new” Freddie. It isn’t how he plays and it isn’t a good look for him. I want the old Freddie back.

  31. My initial impression was a tackle from behind and an automatic foul when the Ljungberg went to ground. In some venues with certain refs (e.g. WC), a red card. I did not see the other views.

    The MLS is NOT a good training ground for wouldbe National team players. And won’t be until they eliminate the thuggery/physicality/holding/grabbing which helps prevents the skillful players from showing their “stuff” and entertaining the crowd in the process. The more time a player spends in MLS, the likelier that person will be to pick up bad habits resulting in cards at higher level competitions. The idiotic Bornstein grab in the penalty area which led to the first Dutch goal (PK) is the most recent example.

  32. Nowak continues today in an article by Christopher A. Vito in the Delaware County Daily Times

    Here is Nowak’s quote:
    “If you want to avoid contact, I would suggest badminton or curling or chess maybe,” Nowak said from the Healthplex. “That’s how we play the game. This is a man’s game. If you want to compete, let’s compete.

    “That’s who we’re going to be. If the other team doesn’t like the way we play, get used to it because we’re going to play every single game like that — regardless of the cards, regardless of the suspension. Get used to it.

    “That’s how we’re going to play every single game, starting March 25 and finishing Oct. 22, or Nov. 22, I hope, when we play MLS Cup. That’s how we’re going to be. We will not change and back off any from the way we play a bit. That’s what the public needs to know and the other team, as well.”

  33. So there’s nothing else in the world of MLS than to analyze a potential dive, based on one camera angle, that’s a week old????

    Times are tough…

  34. Go outside, jump in the air and land on your bum. Since it was an artificial turf field, you’ll probably want to do it on pavement to get are more realistic experience. He easily could have hurt himself by flopping. That said, the Philly kids were hacking away like loggers, so they deserved the attention of a skilled diver. I think they’ll modify their approach as they mature. Freddie the Flopper?…probably not at this point in his career.

    Hey Ives, nice site by the way. I’ve been reading your stuff since you were working at the paper. I’m more of a lurker than a poster, but this topic is fun!

  35. The angle shown in that video is very poor.

    Ljungberg took a hit right in the lower spine. Right on his tale bone.

    You can see it in this video.
    It is when Arlo White is talking to Sigi Schmid. He makes a comment about Ljungberg taking a knock and they show the clip.

    The knee bumps right into Ljungberg’s tailbone. Going at full speed that can hurt.

    It doesn’t look like much, but try having someone running into your tail bone with their knee as you are trying to slow down to avoid a tackle coming from infront of you.

    Something I noticed about both Ljungberg and Montero. They didn’t start out diving in MLS. You didn’t really see any of this until after they had played a few games where they were constantly getting hacked.

    The problem is that the Refs in MLS are so inconsistent. Sometimes they call a foul, other times they don’t.

    Ljungberg and Montero were 1 and 2 in fouls suffered in the league last year. That wasn’t all diving.

    They were getting hacked so much and it was so inconsistently called that they start diving to protect themselves.

    The refs in MLS let some pretty nasty tackles go one minute, and then later in the same game they give a straight red. Other times they give a very soft yellow then a few minutes later call a foul on a much harsher tackle but give no card.

    Stahl clearly doesn’t know how to play physical without playing recklessly. Throwing your knee into peoples backs without going for the ball is not physical. That is just dirty and cheap.

    I will say, that the ref may have been carding Stahl for the contact pushing Ljungberg into the on coming tackler infront of him. It appeared as though he was trying to push him into the tackle with body contact.


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