It was a simple touch but one that spoke volumes.
In the training match against Real Salt Lake, Sounders Swedish newbie Erik Friberg received a square pass from Osvaldo Alonso about 30 yards in front of the Salt Lake goal. With a defender closing down from behind, Friberg rushed to the ball and sent it forward with the flick of his outside right foot. The ball bent around to split the defenders and conveniently met an onrushing O’Brian White, who slammed it home.
“The ball he hit inside to OBrian was a good ball and youll see those things,” coach Sigi Schmid said.
Those things are the intangibles the come with a special player. Fredy Montero has them. So does Steve Zakuani, Alvaro Fernandez, Blaise Nkufo and Brad Evans. Those things can be subtle nuances that allow a player to make something out of nothing. Special qualities that are innate in that personality.
In that one three-second spell, Friberg clearly did more than make something out of nothing — he sent an incisive final pass that led to a goal.
These things, for Friberg, these intangible things, seem to revolve around his ability to make timely runs off the ball, to see the play develop before it actually does and to feather, stroke or slot the ball through congested lanes of shifting bodies and trampling feet.
His first touch — all under enormous pressure — underscores why Friberg is pushing for a starting spot in the center of the midfield. He brings skills that appears to mesh with the squad’s other top offensive players.
If Montero and Fernandez like to dribble and hold the ball, Friberg likes to move it quickly to the most dangerous patch of space. If Zakuani likes to dance and prance and blow past people with his explosive speed, Friberg likes to quietly slice through the opposition without the ball and turn up at the right moment to direct it to its final destination.
Economical. Efficient. Big engine. Stylish but not flashy. Friberg is beginning to sound like an advertisement for Saab. He is certainly not a Volvo. He is beyond solid and durable. He might just be the player the Sounders need to add a different accent, a different tempo, a different note, a different point of view to help orchestrate the build up through the middle, to spray the ball wide, to take the pressure off Montero.
Schmid has been pleased with Friberg’s progress. While he is still building his fitness and still settling in, the other bonus for Schmid is that Friberg plays a lot like Evans, the starting center midfielder who missed most of last season to injury.
“Hes a simple but effective player,” Schmid said. “Theres not a lot of complications to his game, which is good because we have guys that take a little more time on the ball like (Steve) Zakuani and (Fredy) Montero. He can keep the ball moving. He has good vision for the forward pass. His energy level on the field is good. His timing on getting into box is good.
“From a playing style he is not much different than Evans,” Schmid continued. “Hes definitely done well enough that hes knocking on the door. I can see having them in the field at the same time.”
That would be interesting to see. With two center midfielders with similar styles and similar passing visions, it means Schmid won’t have to change formations to suit either player’s strengths, or cover up their weaknesses. That clearly happened when Evans suffered his injury last season and Schmid had to realign the center of the midfield to reflect the reality that Nathan Sturgis wasn’t an attacking midfielder.
Friberg launched his professional soccer career with Västra Frölunda IF before moving to BK Häcken in January of 2007. The Sounders acquired Friberg, a midfielder, after they lost two key contributors, Sturgis and Sanna Nyassi, in the MLS Expansion Draft. Friberg came to Seattles attention when the clubs technical director, Chris Henderson, spotted him during a scouting trip to Scandanavia. Erik is a tactically smart midfielder and very versatile, said Henderson. He has good technique and a good soccer brain. Friberg spent the six seasons playing for teams in Sweden, including four with BK Hacken, a Goteborg-based club, in Sweden’s first division.
As Schmid indicated Wednesday — it’s game on for Friberg and Evans. It should bode well for the Sounders.
- Sounders drew with Real Salt Lake 3-3 on Tuesday. White, Lamar Neagle and Montero scored the goals.
- Schmid said Servando Carrasco, Bryan Merideth and Josh Ford have been the most consistent rookies.
- Schmid added that second-year veterans David Estrada, Miguel Montano and Michael Seamon are battling the rookies for final roster spots. Much has to do with the classification of salaries on the low end of the scale.
- “Theyve shown improvement, but they are all in a battle,” Schmid said. “What you’re looking for now in the rookies is how quickly do they adapt to the speed of play, and you try to compare them to what these guys were a year ago and see if someone has potential to develop faster or greater. It’s almost like who can absorb information the quickest and put it to use.”
- Match on Thursday is against Columbus Crew in Phoenix, 10 a.m. PT at the Westside Soccer Complex.