At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, MLS expansion franchise Seattle Sounders FC will officially announce that it has taken a leap that many of its league counterparts have yet to take.
Veteran Swedish winger/midfielder Freddie Ljungberg, 31, has agreed to a two-year contract as a Designated Player, the provision by which an MLS team can pay any amount it wishes above the league's minimum salary, which was $335,000 in 2008 and hasn't been set for the 2009 season.
Regardless of what figure turns out to be, Ljungberg will make a lot more. Swedish media outlets have reported he will earn $2.5 million per year, which would roughly put him on a par with Fire attacker Cuauhtemoc Blanco behind only David Beckham on the MLS pay scale.
The other players signed by MLS teams as DPs since the rule was adopted in November, 2006 are Juan Pablo Angel and Claudio Reyna (Red Bull New York), Claudio Lopez (Kansas City), Marcelo Gallardo (D.C. United) and Denilson (FC Dallas).
Luciano Emilio (D.C. United) was upgraded to a DP contract this year after scoring 20 goals in 2007. Carlos Ruiz (Toronto FC) and Landon Donovan (Galaxy) earn more than the maximum but do not count as DPs due to their contracts being "grandfathered" by MLS because they were signed before adoption of the DP rule.
Ljungberg starred for several seasons at Arsenal before suffering a series of injuries that knocked him out of regular action and prompted a move to West Ham in the summer of 2007. He played 325 times for Arsenal and scored 72 goals; last season, he scored two goals in 25 league appearances in the first season of what was originally a four-year deal, but he and West Ham agreed to terminate his contract in August and thus was available as a free agent.
He retired from the Swedish national team after playing in the 2008 European Championship, marking his fifth straight appearance in a major tournament. Ljungberg played for Sweden at the 2000, 2004, and 2008 the European Championships, and the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.
Calls to Seattle Sounders FC technical director Chris Henderson were not returned, and several outlets reported that general manager Adrian Hanauer refused to confirm or discuss the deal.
Seattle has signed former U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller, midfielder Sanna Nyassi and forward Sebastien Le Toux. It will pick players in the MLS expansion draft Nov. 26, three days after MLS Cup, and has reached an agreement by which Dynamo forward Nate Jaqua will join the team. Its interest in Colombian midfielder Freddy Montero of Deportivo Cali has been reported for nearly a month without confirmation.
In its coaching search, Seattle has been interviewing candidates. It had been given permission to talk with Chivas USA head coach Preki and New England assistant coach Paul Mariner. It has been refused permission to speak with Columbus head coach Sigi Schmid, whose contract expires next month, and is awaiting permission to discuss the opening with Houston coach Dominic Kinnear and his assistant John Spencer.
Other candidates, including former U.S. internationals John Harkes, Peter Vermes and Robin Fraser, have been considered. Current Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer, who has been in charge of the USL-1 team for the past seven seasons, is also a candidate.