Sounders add a little bit of Scandinavia

  • By John Boyle Herald Writer
  • Sunday, February 12, 2012 11:20pm
  • SportsSports

TUKWILA — When Sounders FC signed Adam Johansson this offseason, it meant the team will have its third Swedish player in as many years who is expected to make a big contribution to the team.

Last season, Erik Friberg started 23 games and helped solidify a deep and talented midfield that was the team’s strength. In its first two seasons, Seattle had Freddie Ljungberg before trading the former Swedish national team captain in July of 2010. Now Johansson, another member of the Swedish national team, will join Sounders FC to take over as the starting right back in place of James Riley, who Seattle lost in the expansion draft.

“We have to have one per season,” joked general manager Adrian Hanauer.

And while Sounders FC obviously doesn’t really have a quota on Swedes, it isn’t entirely a coincidence that two of the team’s offseason acquisitions came from Scandinavia in Johansson and Danish midfielder Christian Sivebaek. Even teams as financially successful as Sounders FC are limited in their ability to scour the globe for talent, so when contacts can be made in certain parts of the world, teams try to make as good a use of them as possible.

“We have limited resources to scout,” said Hanauer. “We just can’t go everywhere in the world, and we’ve spent a decent amount of time in Scandinavia recently, and I think that happens. You see in Portland (which has four Colombians on its roster), you start to build some momentum and some core competency in certain markets, and it certainly then leads to more opportunities in those markets. But it’s not necessarily something we’re wed to or focused on or planning long term.”

But even if the Sounders FC isn’t making a huge push to load up on Scandinavian players, it has certainly made inroads finding talent in that part of the world. Leading the way is technical director Chris Henderson, who scouted both Johansson and Sivebaek. Henderson played briefly for Stabaek in Norway early in his career, and has several connections in Scandinavia from his 12-year career in Major League Soccer.

“Our relationships are pretty good there with a couple of the clubs and a couple of the agents there, so maybe we hear about players who are going to be free quicker from that region,” Henderson said. “There are a lot of similarities too with other Scandinavians that I played with in the league. I can just see how quickly they can adjust culturally and to the league, and the style and level of play is pretty similar to MLS.”

While Johansson, who Henderson describes as a steady leader, figures to jump immediately into a starting role, Sivebaek will have to battle for his playing time in the aforementioned deep Sounders FC midfield. And that’s just fine with the 23-year-old winger.

“I like to compete,” he said. “The players are great, and when you’re going to practice every day you have to get the feeling that you have to do great every single day and you have to compete for a spot on the team. I didn’t want to go to a place where I would be the first pick every time out, I need to have some competition to keep myself sharp.”

At 6-foot-3, Sivebaek gives Seattle a rare combination of size and speed — he finished in the top five when the team did speed tests earlier in the preseason — and has been on the team’s radar for a while. Two years ago Sounders FC was in La Manga, Spain for a preseason tournament and one of the teams it faced was Sivebaek’s club at the time, Midtjylland. Seattle couldn’t reach a deal with Midtjylland to sign Sivebaek then, but kept an eye on him and was able acquire him this offseason.

“When we were in La Manga two years ago, he was there with Midtjylland and we saw him play,” said Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid. “We liked what we saw play, we liked what we saw, knew he was young and had interest in him then, but it was something couldn’t be worked out with the club at that point because he was still under contract and they wouldn’t let him go. So Chris on his last scouting trip this past year went to Sweden and Denmark and saw him play again, so we re-approached the subject with him again, and it was a year later in his contract so the club was a little more amenable to letting him out. You have to be patient sometimes.”

Sounders FC hopes that patience, as well as its scouting efforts in Scandinavia, pays dividends this season in the form of big seasons from Johansson and Sivebaek.

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