Sounders ready for second season in Seattle
TUKWILA, Wash. -- As a defender, James Riley usually isn't this popular to have a convoy of reporters and television cameras crowding around him.
But the player union representative for the Seattle Sounders FC is quite popular recently.
The Sounders -- who redefined a successful inaugural season both on the field and in the seats in 2009 -- started their second training camp on Monday. But looming over the start of year No. 2 is a possible lockout if the league and the players union can't come to an agreement before the current labor deal expires on Jan. 31.
"I think both sides are working diligently to get something on the table and get something signed," Riley said. "... I'm optimistic. I think guys around the league are optimistic something is going to get done."
The lingering question of the league's labor situation already is causing one distraction for the Sounders. Designated player and star midfielder Freddie Ljungberg wrote on his Web site last Friday that he would remain in Sweden until the labor situation is resolved, and is also keeping options for playing in Europe open.
The transfer window for European clubs closes on Jan. 31, the same day the current labor deal in MLS expires. Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer said he remains confident Ljungberg will honor his contract and play a second season with the Sounders.
"Freddie is a player who has options in Europe and there have been teams that have been interested, are interested. We're in communication with his representation and again, it's sort of day to day. We would like it if he was here today, but it's not a surprise to us that he's not here," Hanauer said. "We expect this issue to be settled in the next few days and, quite frankly, we're extremely optimistic and hopeful Freddie will be here very soon."
When he does arrive, Ljungberg could face some discipline from the Sounders. Coach Sigi Schmid seemed irritated that Ljungberg chose to remain in Sweden rather than coming to Seattle for the start of training camp. He said Ljungberg could face internal discipline or fines when he does arrive.
His absence also drew the ire of goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who said he believes Ljungberg should be honoring the contract he signed with Seattle.
"If people are doubting where their heart is or where they want to be, it's a management question, but for me I would much rather play with a group of people that want to be here," Keller said.
All the debate about Ljungberg, or any other signings the Sounders may potentially make, could be a moot point if the labor situation isn't cleared up this week.
The players union claims MLS's single-entity structure, in which all players sign with the league rather than individual teams, violates regulations of FIFA, soccer's world governing body.
FIFPro, which represents the MLS players union, said almost 80 percent of MLS players don't have guaranteed contracts, that contracts give the league multiple one-year options, that players can be transferred without their consent and that out-of-contract players lack freedom of movement.
The league disputes those claims, and Riley for one doesn't want to see the league have any type of work stoppage and slow the momentum MLS has built in recent years.
"Both sides want to resolve the issue as soon as possible so guys can just focus on the preseason," Riley said. "At this point ... soccer in general, especially in Seattle, is on the up and up so any work stoppage is detrimental to the league."