Three international players the Seattle Sounders brought in at midseason are making their marks in the postseason.
In a quick cluster of summer moves, Seattle welcomed midfielder Erik Friberg on June 29, midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz on Aug. 4 and forward Nelson Valdez on Aug. 7.
Each directly helped extend the Sounders’ season during a 3-2 win over Los Angeles in a Western Conference play-in game Oct. 28. Valdez scored Seattle’s second goal, assisted by Ivanschitz. Then Friberg scored the game winner.
In the first leg of the ongoing Western semifinal, Ivanschitz scored the equalizing goal in what eventually became the 2-1 advantage the Sounders will take to FC Dallas for the second leg on Sunday.
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“They’ve all fit very well,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “Obviously with Erik Friberg, he had been here before, he knew some of the guys on the team. So for him to transition to the group was much easier. Valdez and Andreas Ivanschitz are just good guys … and they fit in and meshed with the group very quickly. So from that standpoint of the chemistry and the locker room, those guys have all been great.”
Midseason signings often do not pay immediate dividends in Major League Soccer. Even accomplished veterans can take a while to adjust to the physicality of MLS. And then there’s the many more miles of travel than anything most had previously endured. The challenges can be compounded if the players don’t speak English — although Friberg, Ivanschitz and Valdez do.
Still, they had their ups and downs. Valdez managed a goal and an assist over seven regular-season appearances, Ivanschitz a goal and an assist over six, and Friberg no goals and two assists over 13 matches.
“I think you also saw the difficulties of midseason signings, where Andreas took a while to kind of get up to speed and ready and get his sharpness back,” general manager Garth Lagerwey said. “Again, it’s not surprising, considering he didn’t play from May until September. With Valdez, you had a little bit of the opposite probably where you had him playing straight through Copa America and kind of being banged up and have a harder time recovering because he really didn’t have a break. … I can’t say that we learned anything that we didn’t expect with these guys, but the good news is that they are coming through as we thought they might be able to in the context of helping us win some big games.”
From the start, the players provided an infusion of talented depth that has given Schmid options when injuries and international call-ins have taken players such as Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, Marco Pappa and others from the game-day roster.
That could come in handy again this weekend in Dallas, when Evans, Osvaldo Alonso and Leo Gonzalez all remain questionable with injuries.
“It’s made a huge difference,” Schmid said. “Marco Pappa had a little bit of a hamstring, and Andreas has stepped in and played all those games. Valdez has been in and out a little bit with the calf thing, but he’s been able to contribute major minutes for us as well. And their ability to raise the game: Those guys have been in big games, and so Andreas and Valdez and Friberg, they’re able to raise it, they know what’s at stake.”
The Sounders are off Thursday. They will return to training Friday morning before flying to Texas in the afternoon. … The Tacoma Stars of the Major Arena Soccer League report ticket sales already around 3,000 for their season-opening match against Sacramento at 7:35 p.m. Friday at ShoWare Center in Kent.