COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – In a span of 15 months, Colorado Rapids centerback Axel Sjöberg went from an MLS Defender of the Year finalist to a depth piece looking to make his mark under a new head coach with a new formation in a new system.
“I think that goes for anyone, especially with new coaches,” Sjöberg told Pro Soccer USA. “I have to prove to them that I can do the job that they want me to do. I can’t just rely on previous seasons. There’s a lot of new things and it’s a big process, where you have to keep on improving and show you can do the job required.”
Game minutes have been hard to come by for Sjöberg since the arrival of head coach Anthony Hudson, but an ankle injury to teammate Danny Wilson two weeks ago during a 3-0 win over Philadelphia has given Sjöberg, 27, new opportunity to prove himself.
With Wilson listed as “day to day,” it’s likely Sjöberg will get another opportunity to impress when Colorado hosts Toronto FC at 3 p.m. EST Saturday.
“I’ve liked him,” Hudson said of Sjöberg. “It’s been difficult to jump in when he did. What’s been good with Axel was that it was difficult coming from last year where he’d played a lot. But his response and attitude have been first class. He’s been doing extra training, not to show us, but to improve his game. He’s been asking lots of questions, he’s had a great attitude, and I think it’s paying dividends because he’s had a couple of great performances.”
Sjöberg went on to help Colorado preserve a clean sheet against the Union, and followed it up with his first start of 2018 last week in a 1-1 draw at Dallas, where he contributed with seven clearances and two recoveries.
“I think Anthony is a guy that knows what he wants from his players and knows how he wants to play. That’s an attribute that is very commendable,” Sjöberg said of the changes this season. “His style wasn’t easy in the beginning because we’ve had to do things we haven’t done before. But now we’re clicking as a team and everyone is doing their bit. You see it’s working and people buy into it.”
Hudson’s 3-5-2 formation has been an admitted adjustment for Sjöberg, who’s played in a four-man backline dating back to his youth career in Sweden. He’s been quickly absorbing the subtle nuances, however.
“It’s quite a bit different in terms of spacing,” Sjöberg continued. “As the center guy, you don’t get out quite as often to cover for the fullback. It’s more about organizing the middle and making sure opponents don’t dribble through the team. It’s about managing and organizing those spaces a bit more than a four-man back line; shifting a bit more and using your midfielders to help out.”
Despite the recent changes, Sjöberg, who signed a three-year extension with Colorado last season, still has lofty goals for himself and the team.
“I think any player should have lofty goals. I want to be the best player, period,” he said. “But first, it’s about proving that you’re a good player here and you can do the job required.”
Colorado Rapids Injury Notes:
- Wingback Marlon Hairston (knee) was a limited participant in practice this week and is still “a little bit away” from a full return according to Hudson.
- Defender Danny Wilson (ankle) did not participate in Tuesday’s training and is “day to day”.
- Defender Eric Miller (calf) has not participated in team activities, but has been working on light recovery work during training.
- Enzo Martinez (undisclosed injury), was held out of last Saturday’s match against FC Dallas as a precautionary measure, but is also expected to be available against Toronto.