By John Boyle Herald Writer
SEATTLE — For Sounders FC stars Kasey Keller and Freddie Ljungberg, these are admittedly strange times.
Long-time members of their respective national teams, both will be watching the World Cup, which kicks off this morning, as spectators for the first time in long time.
Keller, Seattle’s 40-year-old captain and starting goalkeeper, played in his first World Cup 20 years ago, and went on to play in three more, last representing the U.S. in 2006.
As a member of the Swedish national team, Ljungberg represented his country in the 2002 and 2006 World Cup, as well as the 2004 and 2008 European championships. He retired from international play after captaining Sweden in the 2008 Euros.
“I’ve played in every big tournament for 10 year, 12 years, so it’s going to be a bit strange this summer not to play since I retired (from international competition),” Ljungberg said. “Of course I’m going to miss it, it’s going to be weird not to be there. I have great memories of scoring and celebrating at the World Cup.”
Keller, one of the best goalies the country has ever produced, said it took him a little while in his first World Cup to realize that, despite the environment, it was still the same game.
“My first game against Germany, it took about 15, 20 minutes to realize that this is just another game,” he said. “Yeah, it’s a World Cup and it’s a big stage and there are millions of people watching, but nothing changes. You still have to do your job. And that’s what having that previous experience is all about. It’s knowing that and being in Cup finals where you’re saying, ‘OK, yeah, it’s a big occasion, but the game stays the same.’”
Keller said the atmosphere at the last World Cup, which was held in Germany, stood out among his four World Cups, and may be hard to match this year.
“Germany was such a phenomenal environment for the simple reason that eight, 10 countries were right there, so you had such tremendous away support, which gave that atmosphere,” he said. “If you weren’t there you saw what it was in the stadium. You saw what it was in the beer gardens. There was that tremendous support for so many countries in the World Cup, that’s obviously not going to be the case in South Africa. There will be less of a stadium buzz, because when U.S. plays Algeria, there won’t be 20,000 people in the stadium rooting for Algeria and 20,000 rooting for America, and having this great rivalry between the fans.”
One other current Sounder, defender Leo Gonzalez, has played in a World Cup. Gonzalez represented Costa Rica in the 2006 cup, though his country lost all three of its games in group play to be eliminated.
“To play in the World Cup is the absolute top goal of any soccer player,” Gonzalez said through a translator. “It’s what everybody tired to reach. Soccer-wise we didn’t do very well, because we lost (all three of) our games. But the experience that I gained doing it was absolutely incredible.”
Sounders FC won’t be entirely without representation at this World Cup, however. Swiss forward Blaise Nkufo signed with the team in March, and will join the team next month after the tournament. His participation leaves some Sounders FC players torn when it comes to Switzerland. While they would love to see their future teammate do well, the team could also use his proven goal-scoring ability, so a quick exit for the Swiss wouldn’t be all bad for Seattle.
Another member of the Sounders organization that will be in South Africa is broadcaster Arlo White, who will be calling games for BBC.
And while some will be following every game, Keller said he’ll be more of a casual fan when it comes to non-U.S. games. As for his future teammate, Keller said his support for Nkufo depends on the time of Switzerland’s games.
“Not if I have to get up at 7 in the morning to watch it,” he said with a laugh. “If they’re playing the 11:30 game, Blaise, I’m right there with you, brother!”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.