Sounders midfielder Gustav Svensson is already back training with the team, just two days after playing in a 4-0 win for Sweden at Belarus in World Cup qualifying play
Sounders midfielder Gustav Svensson realizes that, at age 30, this upcoming chance to play in a FIFA World Cup could be his first and last.
So when he received the surprise news a couple weeks back that Sweden wanted him on its final World Cup qualifying-round roster for games this month, he requested that the Sounders let him leave early. Doing so meant he wouldn’t play in a first-place battle against Portland, but would be able to join the Swedish side for training in Sofia, Bulgaria, ahead of a group qualifying match there.
“It was difficult for me, because I wanted to play against Portland, I wanted to help the (Sounders) team as much as possible,” Svensson said after rejoining the Sounders on Tuesday for training in Tukwila. “But doing that would have pretty much have made my chances of playing for the national team in a game over there at the bare minimum.”
Svensson needed to fly from Seattle to Frankfurt, Germany, then catch a connecting flight to Sofia. Leaving after the Portland game on a Sunday would have had him arrive Tuesday afternoon of last week, miss the team’s first training session in Bulgaria and then have to do a final pregame workout Wednesday, still jetlagged from the 10-hour time difference.
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Instead, he got two training sessions in ahead of the Bulgaria match, in which he didn’t play in a 3-2 loss last Thursday. But then, after flying with the team from Sofia to Minsk in Belarus, he subbed on in the 69th minute of Sweden’s 4-0 win on Sunday.
That might not seem like much. But Svensson was auditioning for a new national-team coach he had yet to play for, and who didn’t know much about him. That’s something he hopes to rectify, because he hopes to help Sweden get to next year’s World Cup and make that squad.
“That was good for me, both to show myself in training and stuff and also to get to play a little bit,” he said. “We have more qualifying games, and I hope I get called up again. It’s very difficult. We have a lot of good players.”
Sweden is 5-2-1 and in second place in Group A, one point behind France.
Svensson previously played for Sweden internationally in early 2016, before the coaching change. Back then, he was with IFK Goteborg in his hometown of Gothenburg, but then had far less exposure playing last season in the Chinese Super League and wasn’t asked back by the national side.
Svensson figured the same would happen in Major League Soccer this year, but it turns out the national squad did get enough of a look at his play here.
“It’s not easy to follow a league that is so far away when there’s a time difference and everything,” he said. “But there are a lot of programs on the Internet in which you can see (MLS) highlights and things like that.”
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said it was tough having Svensson — who has played midfield, right back and center back this season — leave early. But he wasn’t going to start him in that Timbers game because the preceding match at Vancouver had been easy enough from a physical perspective that Schmetzer felt he could use Chad Marshall for the third time in an eight-day span.
Schmetzer also assumed his squad is deep enough that he could afford Svensson a favor.
“I think that, from my perspective, as a coach, I like to take those on a case-to-case basis,” Schmetzer said. “The club, the Sounders, is the most important. That’s my job. But Gustav has been a good foot soldier. He’s played in every minute of every game and done really well. He’s sacrificed a lot for this club … and so I made the decision to let him go based on getting him a good chance to get back on his national team.
“Because I know that he will repay us for the rest of the year and the rest of the time he is with the club.”
Svensson has already started doing that by returning to Seattle within two days of playing in that Belarus game and making it back on the practice field. He felt a bit jetlagged Tuesday but was otherwise fine.
The first-place Sounders expect to have their remaining players back from qualifying games this week, ahead of a Sunday clash against the Los Angeles Galaxy at CenturyLink Field. That includes left back Joevin Jones, who unlike Svensson left the team a week early without permission to fly to Trinidad & Tobago ahead of a pair of qualifying games.
Jones had hoped to play in a “friendly” match against Jamaica but was held out of it by the T&T side when it became apparent the Sounders were not happy with the unsanctioned early departure. He did play Friday in a 2-1 loss to Honduras and had an additional match Tuesday night against Panama before he is expected to rejoin the Sounders.
The Sounders have yet to say whether any disciplinary action will be taken against Jones.
For now, Schmetzer is preoccupied with recapturing some momentum, despite his squad being in the midst of a record 11-game unbeaten streak. His team’s last two games before the two-week qualifying break ended in disappointing 1-1 draws against Vancouver and Portland despite the Sounders controlling play throughout.
“It’s something we always wrestle with,” Schmetzer said of such layoffs. “But what magnified it was that the last two results we were all kind of frustrated about. So now, you have a couple of results where you think you could have done better, then you have a long break, then you try to get your team ramped back up again, and it’s a big challenge.”
Schmetzer added: “We went back through our training plans and tried to decipher any clues as to what we could have done better. And so we’re just trying to learn from that and train the guys a little harder. A little sharper. And hopefully the international guys will come back champing at the bit a little bit. Especially if they didn’t get a lot of (international minutes). They’ll be hungry to play.”